There is no denying that Alaa, one of the narrators of Ahmed Towfik’s Utopia, a spoiled rich kid from a protected community thrown into the poverty wracked world of those outside Utopia, is engaging and intriguing. However, I find a lot of joy in questioning nearly everything he says. From my point of view, he is hardly a reliable narrator.
Alaa rarely ever focuses on what anyone else actually says or does. He claims he knows how they feel from just the look in their eyes, instead of actually talking to them. For example, he claims Germinal, his current lady friend, “loves it” when he orders her around, but Germinal is not the one telling us this, so we don’t know for certain if this is true.
This narrator clearly thinks very highly of himself, claiming he can get any girl he wants and that he’s cultured and respected. We haven’t gotten to see him from anyone’s point of view other than Gaber’s and his own, so whether or not people actually react to him the way he thinks they do is a bit of a mystery.
His perception of others is also something to call into question. It seems, for someone who claims to be so knowledgeable, he rarely does deep thinking about other people and is willing to take them at face value. He thinks he can get any girl he wants because of his looks and his attitudes but he’s never considered that maybe girls sleep with him because they feel obligated to, they think they could get something out of it, or they fear what he could do if they don’t.
This is an obvious opposition to Gaber, one of the Others and our other narrator, who actually listens to others and pays attention to what they do. Alaa, however, first thinks Gaber is “a savage” and refers to “his sadism” and “his insane fury”, though we know from reading the section Gaber narrated himself that he is not like that at all. However, when Alaa did bother to look more closely at Gaber, saying “he’s a cultured type in an environment that isn’t his own”, he also said he still did not “feel one iota of sympathy for him”, proving that he’s about as good of a person as he is a reliable narrator. As for Germinal, he claims “it took sleeping on the ground to reveal her true self” to him, but I have the suspicion that he’d just never bothered to look before.
I can’t even say that I think Alaa himself believes everything he says. For the most part I think he does, he’s had nothing in his life to ever sway his confidence in himself. Sometimes, though, I think that confidence slips just a bit. Like when he says about his father “anyway, I won’t be like him” it feels defensive, and it seems he tries to convince himself that his father’s behavior has nothing to do with him though it does, in fact, bother him a bit. I think this can also be seen when he and Germinal are staying with Gaber and his sister Safiya and he keeps repeating how he won’t ask Safiya about what she’s making. It made it seem an awful lot like he wanted to ask her. Not that he would ever tell us that if he did.