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Mahfouz, Naguib

generation palace egyptian cairo

(Egyptian, 1911– )

Naguib Mahfouz is one of the giants of world literature, both in status and output. He was born in Cairo, the youngest of seven children, and graduated in philosophy from the University of Cairo, choosing to spend his working career as a civil servant. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, the Swedish academy writing that ‘through works rich in nuance—now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous—[he] has formed an Arabic narrative art that applies to all mankind’. Mahfouz has written some forty novels and fourteen volumes of short stories. Begin with the Cairo trilogy: Palace Walk (1956), Palace of Desire (1957), and Sugar Street (1958). In these novels, Mahfouz traces the evolution of Egyptian society from the First to the Second World War, by focusing on three generations of the Abd al-Jawwad family, who begin the saga living a life of moral and social claustrophobia under the yoke of a traditional patriarchy. Yet, even by the end of the first book, the family structure has been undermined as one of the brothers of the second generation is killed in a riot against British rule. In Palace of Desire, the new generation discovers sexual freedoms and responsibilities the older generation did not have. In the final book, Sugar Street, one of the new generation is a communist and another a fundamentalist, yet another is a homosexual who is trying to use his charms to promote himself and his family in the civil service. Mahfouz's style is leisurely and yet at one with the narrative tradition which has produced the Egyptian soap operas so popular all over the Arabic-speaking world; he is a masterly story-teller.

Tayeb Salih, Nawal El Saadawi, Doris Lessing  IP

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