Reviews of books by Naguib Mahfouz
Adrift on the Nile

Frances Liardet (Translator)

Ten young professionals spend their evenings drifting in a houseboat on the Nile until a senseless tragedy splits them apart--in a brief 1966 novel, the most clearly modernist work yet translated into English by the Nobel-winning author of The Cairo Trilogy. The group's master of ceremonies, Anis Zaki, is a widower at the Ministry of Health whose addiction to smoking kef is so severe that he can write out and submit a lengthy document at work without noticing that his pen has run out of ink. Anis marks time from night to night, when he and his thirtysomething friends--a translator for the Foreign Ministry, an accountant at the Ministry of Social Affairs, a lawyer, an art critic, a noted writer of short stories--gather to cast off from the shoreline for endless, aimless conversations about Egyptian society, politics, religion, and other imponderables that lead to gravely modish insights: ``Last night I believed totally in eternal life--but on my way to the office I forgot the reason why.'' One night the group is joined by Samara Bahgat, a ``serious'' journalist, and their placid world begins to shiver. Announcing that she ``will not be tempted into the abyss,'' Samara begins to keep a notebook casting her companions as characters in a play about ``the Serious versus the Absurd''; she draws ever closer to Anis without acknowledging or returning his love; and when the group, out joy-riding one night on the streets of Cairo, runs down and kills a pedestrian, she insists they go to the police--even if it means a prison term for the driver and the end of their ``paradise.'' Quietly, disturbingly incisive about modern Cairo's uneasy truce between old ways and new, though less powerfully compressed than either The Cairo Trilogy or last year's magical The Journey of Ibn Fattouma. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. Synopsis. A stunning novel by the widest-read Arab writer currently published in the U.S. The age of Nasser has ushered in enormous social change, and most of the middle-aged and middle-class sons and daughters of the old bourgeoisie find themselves trying to recreate the cozy, enchanted world they so dearly miss. One night, however, art and reality collide--with unforeseen circumstances.

Arabian Nights and Days

An austerely modern reworking of The Thousand and One Nights- -the most magical work yet set into English by Egyptian Nobel laureate Mahfouz (The Harafish, 1994, etc.). Although these intertwined fables are, like the volume that inspired them, set in the past, they deal with all-too-modern consequences of fairy-tale adventures. In ``Nur Al-Din and Dunyazad,'' peerless storyteller Shahrzad's sister dreams of the perfume seller and wakens to find herself pregnant by him, with all the contemporary burdens of unwanted pregnancy. In ``Sanaan al- Gamali,'' a merchant, purchasing his life from a genie he has crossed, is ordered to kill the corrupt governor; but when Sanaan goes to see him, the governor, every inch the modern wheeler- dealer, asks if he can marry Sanaan's daughter, offers his own daughter as a bride for Sanaan's son, and announces his plan to sign an enormous contract with one of Sanaan's relatives. In ``The Cap of Invisibility,'' a righteous man accepts a magical gift on the condition that he be allowed to do ``anything except what [his] conscience dictates''; he then faces moral dilemmas the original Arabian Nights never dreamed of.

The Beginning and the End

First Published in 1956, this is a powerful Portrayal of a middle-class Egyptian family confronted by Material, moral, and spiritual problems during World War II.

Children of the Alley

The Mahfouz publishing industry for American audiences continues undiminished; this latest of the Nobel laureate's works to be translated appeared originally in Arabic in 1959. As a story of a community in his native Egypt, the novel stands as a compelling depiction of succeeding generations of an extended family unit in a circumscribed area--"Everyone in our alley knows everyone else, men and women, alike; and yet no alley has ever known the terrible quarrels ours has." Then, too, the novel can be read on a higher level--as an allegory about the beginnings of humankind, when expulsion from paradise, in this case the villa of the family patriarch, results in brother fighting brother and, finally, the eventual formation of a workable society with established places for everyone (though, of course, bickering goes on indefinitely).

The Harafish

First published in 1977, Harafish is now presented in an American edition, and the author's enthusiasts will applaud. Epic, fablelike, it follows the fortunes of a particular family in the "alley," presumably a neighborhood in Mahfouz's native Cairo. We move through time but without the usual historical signposts. The passage of decades is indicated strictly in terms of local events in the alley, namely the rise and fall of the al-Nagi clan, who win, lose, and win again the respect and leadership of the harafish, the common people of the alley.

The Journey of Ibn Fattouma

Thwarted in marriage when his fianc‚e is claimed by the sultan's chamberlain, Qindil Muhammad al-Innabi, called Ibn Fattouma, resolves to go on a pilgrimage to the storied land of Gebel. The tale of his travels is a tale of detours. Passing through the moon-worshipping land of Mashriq, he stays for several years with lightsome Arousa, but is exiled for sharing his Muslim religion with their children. When Haira, a police state where Fattouma has been staying, conquers Mashriq, he purchases Arousa in a slave auction, but again his bride catches the eye of an influential advisor, and he is sentenced to life imprisonment for speaking out against the advisor. Released after 20 years by another war, he travels to Halba--a land of complete freedom that seems a sly portrait of America--and takes another wife; the reappearance of Arousa, though, reproaches him with his inconstancy to his pilgrimage, and he sets out for Aman, the land of perfect justice whose price is total conformity. Increasingly disillusioned in his nation's betrayal of Muslim beliefs, Fattouma follows Arousa to Ghuroub, where he attaches himself to a holy man who tries to prepare him for the journey to Gebel, but more fighting forces him to press on prematurely, and it is unclear from the ending of his journal whether he ever reaches his elusive goal.

Midaq Alley

Considered by many to be Mahfouz's best novel, Midaq Alley centers around the residents of one of the hustling, teeming back alleys of Cairo. No other novel so vividly evokes the sights and sounds of the city. The universality and timelessness of this book cannot be denied.


Once again, Naguib Mahfouz has fashioned a highly charged, tightly written tale of intersecting lives that provides readers with both an engaging and powerful story as well as a vivid portrait of life in Egypt in the late 1960s. Set in Alexandria, Miramar tells the violent, tragic story of the former grand hostelry Miramar, now a pension run by an elderly grand dame and a young country girl.

"With Miramar we are in the hands of a considerable novelist, and one who knows his country's complex problems, and complex soul, profoundly."--John Fowles

Palace of Desire (Cairo Trilogy 2)

The second volume of the highly acclaimed Cairo Trilogy from the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Filled with compelling drama, earthy humor, and remarkable insight, Palace Of Desire is the unforgettable story of the violent clash between ideals and realities, dreams and desires.

Palace Walk (Cairo Trilogy 1)

Volume I of the masterful Cairo Trilogy. A national best-seller in both hardcover and paperback, it introduces the engrossing saga of a Muslim family in Cairo during Egypt's occupation by British forces in the early1900s.

Respected Sir

This novel retells a familiar theme--vaulting ambition--in a powerful and religious metaphor. What is essentially a prosaic experience becomes--in Mahfouz's hands--a beautifully crafted story of an exalted and arduous holy quest.

The Search

A powerful story of lust, greed and murder. Unflinching, tough, and dramatic, The Search was most certainly intended to be a harsh criticism of Post-Revolution morality, but, on its most elemental level, it is a lurid and compelling tale.

Sugar Street (The Cairo Trilogy, 3)

The final volume in Nobel laureate Mahfouz's magisterial Cairo trilogy takes the Abd al-Jawad family from a rising tide of nationalist sentiment in 1935 through the darkness and confusion of WW II, as Britain defends an Egypt officially neutral. Yet national politics, for all its importance as background accompaniment here (as in Palace Walk and Palace of Desire), is usually kept just offstage--``They say that Hitler has attacked,'' old family servant Umm Hanafi announces halfway through, and matriarch Amina's final illness coincides with a bombing raid--as Mahfouz continues to dramatize the emergence of modern Egypt through ailing family head Ahmad Abd al-Jawad's family--his sons, sensualistic Yasin and scholarly Kamal; his daughters, prematurely aged widow Aisha and settled wife and mother Khadija; and his five grandchildren. As perennial bachelor Kamal methodically visits his father's favorite brothel and frets about whether to marry, the focus of the trilogy shifts from Palace Walk to Khadija's home with Ibrahim Shawkat on Sugar Street, where the couple's sons--Abd al- Muni'm, turning toward fundamentalist Islam, and increasingly committed Communist Ahmad--argue about their duty to the country and the nature of Egyptian society, but both end meeting the same fate. Meanwhile, Yasin's son Ridwan rises rapidly through the ranks of the civil service with the aid of magnetic, homosexual Pasha Isa, and their sister Karima, like Aisha's daughter Na'ima, prepares to receive the inevitable wedding proposal--though both times from a surprising source. Individual episodes--Ahmad Abd al- Jawad's hazy awareness that his friends are all dying; Kamal's abortive romance with Budur Shaddad, sister of his far-distant first love Aida; and his final tormented guilt over his moral paralysis--show Naguib's Tolstoyan economy at its most dramatic, though the third generation of his family makes a more muted impression than the first two.

The Time and the Place : And Other Stories

Selected and translated by the distinguished scholar Denys Johnson-Daivies, these stories have all the celebrated and distinctive characters and qualities found in Mahfouz's novels: The denizens of the dark, narrow alleyways of Cairo, who struggle to survive the poverty; melancholy ruminations on death; experiments with the supernatural; and witty excursions into Cairene middle-class life.

Wedding Song

Set against the backdrop of the the theater, this novel is a taut psychological drama on and off the stage. First published in 1981, this brilliant novel focuses on how time transforms people and their emotions.

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