About Waguih Ghali

Waguih Ghali (February 25, 192?, Egypt– January 5, 1969, London, England) was a Coptic, Anglophone Egyptian writer, best known for his novel Beer in the Snooker Club (Andre Deutsch, 1964). Fearing political persecution, Ghali spent his adult years living in exile in Europe. Waguih Ghali writes critically and compellingly about what has come to be known as the post-colonial condition. His writings reflect a distinctly cosmopolitan vision.

An engaging and politically savvy novel set in the 1950s, Beer in the Snooker Club critiques both the British colonial enterprise and the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. The novel follows two young Copts, Ram and Font, who befriend an Egyptian-Jewish communist, Edna. In tracing their movements—intellectually and physically—between Cairo and London before and after the 1956 Suez conflict, the novel offers insights into these two societies in transition. Beer in the Snooker Club has gone into several reprints, most recently by Serpent’s Tail Press (London) in 2010, attesting to its lasting influence and popularity. To date, Ghali’s novel has also been translated into four European languages, Arabic, and Hebrew.

In addition to the novel, Waguih Ghali published a series of personal narrative essays in the Guardian (Manchester) between 1957 and 1965. Following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Ghali visited Israel as a free-lance journalist. He filed two articles from Israel for the Times (London), and upon his return to London, he recorded a report for the BBC.

Waguih Ghali’s battles with depression are amply documented in his diaries. On December 26, 1968 Waguih Ghali swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills in the apartment of Diana Athill, his editor and friend. He died on January 5, 1969.

About this archive

Upon his death, Waguih Ghali left in Diana Athill’s possession six notebooks of diaries and two fragments from a fictional work in progress. Ghali had begun keeping a diary on May 24, 1964 while residing in Rheydt, West Germany. The final entry was written in London on December 26, 1968, after he had already taken the pills that would eventually kill him.

In 1999, Diana Athill graciously granted me the opportunity to photocopy these materials in support of research I was conducting on Waguih Ghali’s writings. After completing that project, I boxed up the papers. I did not examine them for more than a decade.

In early 2012 a London-based researcher, Susie Thomas, informed me that Ghali’s original notebooks had been lost, and that the photocopies I had made in 1999 might be the only complete copy of the archive. In light of this discovery, Diana Athill wrote that she was “very keen on the idea that they should be safely preserved in a library.” With the support of a Digital Collections Grant, the Cornell University Library digitized and has made accessible the 1999 photocopies of Waguih Ghali’s notebooks.

Deborah Starr
Cornell University
January 2013