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On holiday

Amit Chaudhuri, 21 July 1994

The Harafish 
by Naguib Mahfouz, translated by Catherine Cobham.
Doubleday, 406 pp., £15.99, June 1994, 0 385 40362 3
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... Naguib Mahfouz made his name with his trilogy of Cairo life – Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street – first published in Arabic in the late Fifties. At first glance, The Harafish, which was originally published in 1977, bears little resemblance to, say, Palace Walk. The latter is a story of a family in an ‘alley’ in Cairo in the first half of the 20th century, and is told in a straightforward chronological manner that seems to owe something to the 19th-century European novel ...


Christopher Hitchens: The Salman Rushdie Acid Test, 24 February 1994

... with Rushdie and their reasons for regarding his own case as, in some important way, their own. Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian Nobel laureate, is probably the best-known of these authors, but many of the leading Palestinian, Algerian and Tunisian voices were heard also. A separate petition, inscribed by 57 of the leading artists, writers and scientists ...

Where are the playboys?

Robert Irwin: The politics of Arab fiction, 18 August 2005

Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology 
edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi.
Columbia, 1056 pp., £40, June 2005, 0 231 13254 9
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... with Nasser’s regime soon followed. That disillusion was given voice in such novels as Naguib Mahfouz’s gloomy Miramar (1967), in which the various characters staying in a hotel comment on the failure of Arab socialism to deliver on its promises. After Egypt’s crushing defeat by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 and Nasser’s death in ...
by Ahdaf Soueif.
Cape, 159 pp., £7.50, July 1983, 0 224 02097 8
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... are formless, and these formless works, not the far more substantial fiction achievements of Naguib Mahfouz, have attained to the position of classics. Formless works in Khoury’s definition are autobiographical, episodic, often lyrical – two great examples are Taha Hussein’s Autobiography and Tawfik al-Hakim’s Diary. Such works treat ...

Black, not Noir

Adam Shatz: Sonallah Ibrahim, 7 March 2013

‘That Smell’ and ‘Notes from Prison’ 
by Sonallah Ibrahim, translated by Robyn Creswell.
New Directions, 110 pp., £11.99, March 2013, 978 0 8112 2036 1
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... a way of nursing one’s wounds. But he was no more enamoured of the Balzacian realism of Naguib Mahfouz whose Cairo Trilogy struck Ibrahim as too orderly, too cohesive for the shattering experiences he hoped to capture. He was in little doubt that he had something to say: ‘The mouth, like the prison, contains, when closed, living things,’ he ...

Those rooms had life

Sameer Rahim: The Yacoubian Building, 10 May 2007

The Yacoubian Building 
by Alaa al-Aswany, translated by Humphrey Davies.
Fourth Estate, 255 pp., £14.99, February 2007, 978 0 00 724361 7
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... Egypt is proud of its cultural heritage. Last summer, the government gave a state funeral to Naguib Mahfouz, despite the controversy over his novel The Children of Gebelawi – published in 1959, it was banned for causing religious offence – and his opposition to Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime. Cinema is more strictly censored, but the esteem and ...

A History of Disappointment

Avi Shlaim, 22 June 2000

The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation’s Odyssey 
by Fouad Ajami.
Pantheon, 368 pp., $14, July 1999, 0 375 70474 4
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... politics. During a recent visit, Ajami spent four evenings in the company of the great novelist Naguib Mahfouz. Now in his eighties, Mahfouz is still recovering from a knife-wound inflicted by religious fanatics that nearly cost him his life and paralysed his writing hand. For Ajami, he epitomises at once modernity ...

Homage to a Belly-Dancer

Edward Said, 13 September 1990

... Lady’s Ploy’, 1946), which also stars the greatest of 20th-century Arab actors and comedians, Naguib el-Rihani, a formidable combination of Chaplin and Molière. In the film, Tahia is a gifted young dancer and wit, used by her rascally parents to ensnare men of means. Rihani, who plays an unemployed teacher, is fond of her and she loves him, but she is ...

We’ll win or lose it here

Robert F. Worth: Lessons from Tahrir Square, 21 September 2017

The City Always Wins 
by Omar Robert Hamilton.
Faber, 312 pp., £14.99, August 2017, 978 0 571 33517 6
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Chronicle of a Last Summer: A Novel of Egypt 
by Yasmine El Rashidi.
Tim Duggan, 181 pp., £11.70, June 2017, 978 0 7704 3729 9
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... misery-stained city one sees in the novels of Sonallah Ibrahim, Alaa al Aswany or Naguib Mahfouz; nor would it be recognisable to ordinary Egyptians. Hamilton and his hero seem only dimly aware of the fatal mismatch between their hipster-rebel worldview and the conservatism of the Egyptian masses, which only deepened after the clashes of ...

The Shrinking Sphere

Malise Ruthven, 6 July 1995

Islamic Britain: Religion, Politics and Identity among British Muslims 
by Philip Lewis.
Tauris, 255 pp., £9.99, October 1994, 1 85043 861 7
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The Failure of Political Islam 
by Olivier Roy, translated by Carol Volk.
Tauris, 238 pp., £14.95, October 1994, 1 85043 880 3
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... small, highly urbanised areas. By attempting to silence indigenous artists like Tasleema Nasreen, Naguib Mahfouz or Yousuf Chahine, the Islamists are successfully attacking the public culture of the countries in which they operate. If the Islamists come to power, Muslims under Islamist rule will become passive consumers of, rather than active ...

Goodbye to Mahfouz

Edward Said, 8 December 1988

... Naguib Mahfouz’s achievement as the greatest living Arab novelist and first Arab winner of the Nobel Prize has in small but significant measure now retrospectively vindicated his unmatched regional reputation, and belatedly given him recognition in the West. For of all the major literatures and languages, Arabic is by far the least known and the most grudgingly regarded by Europeans and Americans, a huge irony given that all Arabs regard the immense literary and cultural worth of their language as one of their principal contributions to the world ...

The bullet mistakenly came out of the gun

Jack Shenker: The Age of Sisi, 30 November 2017

The Queue 
by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette.
Melville House, 220 pp., £10.99, June 2016, 978 0 9934149 0 9
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... work draws on a rich lineage of Egyptian literary styles, from the character portraits drawn by Naguib Mahfouz to the satire of Gamal al-Ghitani and the allegorical minimalism of Sonallah Ibrahim. She probes the gulf between official rhetoric and the stubborn inconvenience of real events, and delights in the convoluted absurdities that derive from ...

11 September

LRB Contributors, 4 October 2001

... things, that the fundamentalist fanatics of Montana are pitched against the wisdom of artists like Naguib Mahfouz or ‘Abd al-Hakim Qasim. In the conflict between capitalism and the Koran, or a version of it, one transnational movement confronts another. For the moment, in its atrocious suffering, the US has the moral advantage over its equally ...

From Progress to Catastrophe

Perry Anderson: The Historical Novel, 28 July 2011

... not so far away in the Mediterranean a historical novel was moving in the opposite direction. Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairene Trilogy, depicting semi-colonial Egypt from the rise of the Wafd at the end of the First World War to the activity of Muslim Brothers and Communists during the Second through the story of a bourgeois family, was written under ...

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