Naguib Mahfouz (1911- )
Biographical Information

Socially committed Egyptian novelist, essayist, and short story writer who explored the problems of traditional and modern Egyptian society; author of thirty-two novels, thirteen collections of short stories, screen plays, and several stage plays; awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.

1911, born to a middle-class Muslim family in Cairo, the city which is the setting for most of his novels.

Against his father's will, Mahfouz rejected medicine and chose to study philosophy; interest in rediscovering and redefining the truths which in the past he had found in religion.

1930, published article, "The Dying of Old Beliefs and the Birth of New Beliefs"

1936, decided that literature would be his field and abandoned his study of philosophy.

1939, published his first novel, The Mockery of Fate (Abath al-Aqdar); Mahfouz entered the government bureaucracy, where he was employed for the next 35 years.

1939-54, civil servant at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, then worked as a director of the Foundation for Support of the Cinema.

1956-57, publication of Al-Thulathiyya (The Cairo Trilogy), which is his most famous novel and made him a leading figure in modern Arabic literature.

1969-71, consultant for cinema affairs in the Ministry of Culture.

1988, awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

1994, 82-year old Mahfouz survived a terrorist attack (stabbed several times in the neck) by Islamic religious fanatics who have targeted him for his criticisms of their fundamentalist ideologies.

Main Works

The Mockery of Fate (Abath al-Aqdar) (1939), Radubis (1943), and Thebes' Struggle (Kifah Tiba) (1944); historical novels modeled after the works of Sir Walter Scott and part of a plan to deal with the whole history of Egypt; eventually Mahfouz gave up that project and shifted his attention to contemporary Egypt.

The Cairo Trilogy (Al-Thulathiyya) (1956-57); the work that established Mahfouz as the foremost Egyptian novelist. The trilogy is set in the parts of Cairo where Mahfouz grew up. The character of Kamal comes very close to being the author's alter ego. The individual novels are titled with street names Palace Walk (Bayn al-Qasrayn), Palace of Desire (Qasr al-Shawq), and Sugar Street (Al-Sukkariyya). Mahfouz depicts the life of three generations in Cairo from World War I to the 1950s, when King Farouk I was overthrown. While exploring the nature and effects of different historical forces, Mahfouz also studies the characters from psychological, intellectual, and social perspectives. The trilogy connects Mahfouz with a line of authors such as Balzac, Dickens, and Tolstoy.

The Children of Gebelawi (Awlad Haratina) (1959), a work which was serialized in the magazine, Al-Ahram; it portrayed average Egyptians living the lives of Cain and Abel, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed; prophets and religious figures are presented as human and as social reformers. Mahfouz was accused of blasphemy by orthodox religious believers and the work was banned throughout the Arab world, except in Lebanon. Mahfouz further developed the themes of the book in his existentialist novels of the 1960's.

The Thief and the Dogs (Al-Liss wa al-Kilab) (1961), considered one of Mahfouz's most successful works, the novel features a thief who is hounded by the police with their dogs and is ultimately murdered in a cemetery. Ostensibly a psychological crime story, the work has social-political overtones and engages in subtle discussion of the Islamic religion.

Beneath the Shelter (Tahta al-Mazalla) (1967). A group of people waiting for a bus witness a series of violent events reminiscent of Middle Eastern reality as seen from an Egyptian point of view. The onlookers however make no attempt to intervene. When they finally seek an explanation from a policeman, he shoots them all. The story deals with the fear of involvement that is one of Mahfouz's central concerns.

Love in the Rain (Al-Hubb tahta al-Matar) (1973) deals with the problem of a despondent and demoralized nation, a situation stemming from Egypt's defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Respected Sir (Hadratu al-Muhtaram) (1975), a satirical examination of the false values and mentality of the Egyptian bureaucracy of which Mahfouz was part for many years.

Before the Throne (Amama al 'Arsh) (1983) features, in a series of repetitively worded chapters, the appearance of Egypt's dead leaders at a court of Ancient Egyptian gods who are conducting pre-trial hearings before their final judgment in the afterlife.

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