Title: The Kitchen Boy by Alaa Al Aswany
Date Read: 15 September 2009
Available Online?: YES (as one of the stories posted by Harper Perennial on their website Fifty-Two Stories, which promises a new (or classic) short story from their collection, posted every week throughout 2009).
Briefly: After achieving the highest marks possible, following five years at medical school, Hisham happily finds himself appointed as a resident in General Surgery at the el-Qasr el-Aini Hospital. Hisham’s delight soon turns to dismay however, when he is told by the hugely powerful and prestigious Dr. Bassiouni (Chairman of the Department of General Surgery), that he must start at the bottom as the ‘kitchen boy’, before he can even hope of becoming a bone fide surgeon one day.
Afterthoughts: In his introduction to this story Cal Morgan proclaims Alaa Al Aswany to be one of Egypt’s most ‘bold and provocative writers’. And after reading The Kitchen Boy I can see why. The story suggests that there exists fundamental flaws within the Egyptian medical institution, where an ethos of bullying and ‘power tripping’ is very much the norm. That makes it sound as though The Kitchen Boy is nothing more than an all-out political attack, but it’s not really. In his quest to say what he thinks he has to say, Alaa Al Aswany has crafted a delightful little story which has some real highlights, and two superbly crafted characters, namely Dr. Bassiouni and Dr. Mansour.
Notable Quote: ““Your job here is that of the kitchen boy,” said the chairman, breaking out into quick, repeated bursts of laughter and playing with his long sideburns. Hisham was on the verge of laughing too, out of politeness, but fortunately an inner voice warned him against doing so. “Do you know what the kitchen boy is, in the kitchen? He’s the boy who collects the onion peelings and washes down the tiles and gets it in the neck from the cooks. There you have it: the resident in surgery is precisely the kitchen boy in the kitchen.”
*Story read as part of my 100 Shots of Short reading challenge.