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The Jokers by Albert Cossery

The Jokers (original 1964; edition 2010)

by Albert Cossery, Anna Moschovakis (Translator), James Buchan (Introduction)

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144283,153 (3.36)47
Title:The Jokers
Authors:Albert Cossery
Other authors:Anna Moschovakis (Translator), James Buchan (Introduction)
Info:NYRB Classics (2010), Paperback, 232 pages
Collections:Your library, BI2012
Tags:Egypt, NYRB Classics, 2012

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The Jokers by Albert Cossery (1964)



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While this book had an engaging writing style and an interesting premise, there were way too many sexist comments/characters for such a short book. The intro, which I read after finishing, mentioned Cossery’s contempt for women which unfortunately came through in his writing. The main plot – a group of disillusioned and intelligent opponents of the current government protest by excessively praising the governor – is fun at first but I felt more time should be spent on that instead of all the random relationships. It also peters out at the end in a rather abrupt manner.

The four conspirators are a varied lot – Karim, a formerly passionate dissident who has now embraced irony and satire; Heykal, the laid-back and aristocratic leader; Omar, a cheerily vulgar criminal millionaire; and Urfy, a nervous teacher distracted by his mother’s descent into dementia. Heykal annoyed me as he seemed to be almost too-perfect – not that he didn’t have problems, but everyone looked up to him and acted like he was the only person worth knowing. The descriptions of their plot to anonymously hang posters with over-the-top praise of the governor, send in fatuously glowing letters to the newspaper and propose funding a statue of the governor are interesting but various side characters get in the way.

A dilettante trying to get an in with Heykal, a former associate of Karim’s and obviously the governor are shown in a negative light but every female character is a sexist stereotype. Karim’s attitude toward prostitutes that he uses is pretty disgusting and a girl from a good family who Heykal uses for information is shown throwing herself at him while he criticizes her for thinking only of love instead of politics. Another, frankly creepy scene has Heykal checking out an 8-year-old girl. Urfy’s mother – a self-sacrificing woman in the past, it is implied – is mainly there to let Heykal muse on how madness is the ultimate freedom and the “crazy old woman” also fits with stereotypical glimpses of other old women as nagging and ugly. Unfortunately, all the sexism and the distractions from the main plot meant that I enjoyed the book less and less as it went on. ( )
2 vote DieFledermaus | Jun 30, 2013 |
Can it be I'm getting tired of Albert Cossery? There is no reason why I should like this book less than the two I read earlier this year, Proud Beggars and The Colors of Infamy: Cossery's wit is just as satiric and ironic, his writing just as good, his portrayal of character and place just as sharp. But it's starting to seem like he's writing the same book, even though the plot is different. In this case, the group of male friends who eschew seriousness and like to find humor in everything are scheming to bring down the governor of an unnamed Egyptian city (that seems to be Alexandria, not Cairo) through a campaign to praise him excessively. As one of the characters muses about a revolutionary who does not share the protagonists' perspective, "He didn't want the police to take him for a joker -- that was all he cared about. . . . He needed those criminals to respect him. How pathetic for a rebel! Even he couldn't break out of the vicious cycle of power. . . . He was more of a prisoner than a prisoner in his cell because he shared the same myths of his adversary . . ." Had I read this novel first, I am sure I would have been as enthusiastic about it as I was about the others, and I did enjoy it, but just not with the same thrill of discovery.

By the way, the literal translation of the French title is "violence and derision," which has a much sharper tone than the one given it in English.
4 vote rebeccanyc | Mar 27, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Albert Cosseryprimary authorall editionscalculated
Buchan, JamesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moschovakis, AnnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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