Mahfouz, Naguib 1911(?)–
Mahfouz, Naguib 1911(?)–
PERSONAL: Name also transliterated as Nagib or Najib Mahfuz; born December 11, 1911 (some sources say 1912 or 1914), in Gamaliya, Cairo, Egypt; son of Abdel Aziz Ibrahim (a merchant) and Fatma Mostapha Mah-fouz; married Attiya Allah (name also transliterated as Inayat Allah, Ateyate Ibrahim), September 27, 1954; children: Om Kolthoum, Fatima. Education: University of Cairo, philosophy degree, 1934; post-graduate study in philosophy, 1935–36.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Donald E. Herdeck, Three Continents Press, 1636 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20009.
CAREER: Civil servant, journalist, and writer. University of Cairo, Cairo, Egypt, secretary, 1936–38; Egyptian Government, Cairo, bureaucrat affiliated with the Ministry of Wakfs (also called Ministry of Islamic Affairs), 1939–54, director of censorship for the Department of Art, 1954–59, director of Foundation for Support of the Cinema for the State Cinema Organization, 1959–69, consultant for cinema affairs to the Ministry of Culture, 1969–71. Affiliated with Cairo newspaper Al-Ahram.
AWARDS, HONORS: Egyptian State Prize, 1956, for Bayn al-qasrayn; National Prize for Letters (Egypt), 1970; Collar of the Republic, 1972; Nobel Prize for literature, the Swedish Academy, 1988; named to Egyptian Order of Independence and to Order of the Republic.
Hams al-junun, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1939.
Abath al-aqdar, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1939.
Kiftah Tiba, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1944.
Khan al-khalili, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), c. 1945.
Al-Qahira al-jadida, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1946.
Zuqaq al Midaqq (novel), Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1947, translation with introduction by Trevor Le Gassick published as Midaq Alley, Khayats, 1966, revised edition, Heinemann (England), 1975, Three Continents (Washington, DC), 1981.
Al-Sarab, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), c. 1949.
Bayn al-qasrayn, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1956, translation by William M. Hutchins and Olive E. Kenny published as Palace Walk: The Cairo Trilogy I, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1990.
Qasr al-shawq, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), c. 1957, translation by Hutchins, Lorne M. Kenny, and Olive E. Kenny published as Palace of Desire: The Cairo Trilogy II, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1991.
Al Sukkariya, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1957, translation by Hutchins and Angele Botros Samaan published as Sugar Street: The Cairo Trilogy III, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1992.
Al-Liss wa-al-kilab (novel), Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1961, translation by Le Gassick and Muhammad Mustafa Badawi published as The Thief and the Dogs, revised edition by John Rodenbeck, American University in Cairo Press (Cairo, Egypt; New York, NY), 1984.
Al-Summan wa-al-kharif Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1962, translation by Roger Allen published as Autumn Quail, American University in Cairo Press (Cairo, Egypt; New York, NY), 1985.
Dunya Allah, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), c. 1963.
The Search (originally published in Arabic as Al-Tariq, 1964), translation by Mohamed Islam, edited by Magdi Wahba, American University in Cairo Press (Cairo, Egypt; New York, NY), 1987, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1991.
Bayt sayyi al-sum'a, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1965.
Al-Shahhadh, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1965, translation by Kristin Walker Henry and Nariman Khales Naili al-Warraki published as The Beggar, American University in Cairo Press (Cairo, Egypt; New York, NY), 1986.
Tharthara fawqa al-Nil, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1966, translation by Frances Liardet published as Adrift on the Nile, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1993.
Miramar (novel), Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1967, translation by Fatma Moussa-Mahmoud published under same title, edited and revised by Maged el Kommos and Rodenbeck, introduction by John Fowles, Heinemann (London, England), 1978, Three Continents, 1983.
Awlad haratina, [Beirut], 1967, published in serialized form, 1969, translation by Philip Stewart published as Children of Gebelawi, Three Continents, 1981, translation by Peter Theroux published as Children of the Alley, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1995.
Tahta al-mizalla, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), c. 1967.
Khammarat al-qitt al-aswad, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), c. 1968, translation published as The Tavern of the Black Cat, 1976 (contains the stories "A Vague Word," "The Defendant," "The Tavern of the Black Cat," and "Paradise of the Children").
Hikaya bi-la bidaya wa-la nihaya, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1971.
Shahr al-asal, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1971.
Al-Maraya, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1972, translation by Allen published as Mirrors, Bibliotheca Islamica (Minneapolis, MN), 1977.
Al-Hubb tahta al-matar, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1973.
Al-Jarima, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1973.
God's World: An Anthology of Short Stories (contains "Tahta al-mazalla" [title means "Under the Bus Shelter"]), translation and introduction by Akef Abadir and Allen, Bibliotheca Islamica (Minneapolis, MN), 1973.
Al-Karnak, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1974, translation by Saad El-Gabalawy published in Three Contemporary Egyptian Novels, York Press (Park-ton, MD), 1979, also translated as Karnak Cafe.
Hikayat haratina, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1975, translation by Soad Sobhy, Essam Fattouh, and James Kenneson published as Fountain and Tomb, Three Continents, 1988.
Qalb al-layl, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1975.
Hadrat al-muhtaram, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1975, translation by Rasheed El-Enany published as Respected Sir, Quartet, 1988.
Malhamat al harafish, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1977, translation by Catherine Cobham published as The Harafish, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1994.
Hubb fawqa hadabat al-haram, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1979.
Shaytan ya'iz, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1979.
Nagib Mahfuz-yatadhakkar (title means "Naguib Mah-fouz Remembers"), edited by Gamal al-Gaytani, Al-Masirah, 1980.
Asr al-hubb, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1980.
Afrah al-qubbah, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1981, translation by Olive E. Kenny published as Wedding Song, revised edition by Mursi Saad El Din and Rodenbeck, introduction by Saad El Din, American University in Cairo Press (Cairo, Egypt; New York, NY), 1984.
Ra'aytu fima yara al-na'im, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1982.
Baqi min al-zaman sa'ah, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1982.
Layali alf laylah, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1982, translation by Denys Johnson-Davies published as Arabian Nights and Days, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1995.
Amam al-'arsh, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1983.
Rihlat ibn Fattumah, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1983, translation by Johnson-Davies published as Journey of Ibn Fattouma, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1992.
Al-Tanzim al-sirri, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1984.
Al-A'ish fi al-haqiqa, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1985.
Yawm qutila al-za'im, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1985.
Hadith al sabah wa-al-masa, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1987.
Sabah al-ward, Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1987.
Qushtumor, [Cairo], 1989.
Echoes of an Autobiography, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1997.
The Day the Leader Was Killed: A Novel, translated by Malak Hashem, General Egyptian Book Organization (Cairo, Egypt), 1989.
The Beggar; The Thief and the Dogs; Autumn Quail, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth, translated by Tagreid Abu-Hassabo, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Respected Sir; Wedding Song; The Search, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Jaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureate, 1994–2001: From Conversations with Mohamed Salmawy, American University in Cairo, 2001.
Futøuwat al-'utöuf Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 2001.
The Cairo Trilogy, (includes Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street), translated by William Maynard Hutchins, with an introduction by Sabry Hafez, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
Sih'am Dhuhn'i wa-thartharah ma'a Naj'ib Mahf'uz, D'ar Akhb'ar al-Yawm, Qit'a' al-Thaq'afah (al-Q' ahirah, Egypt), 2002.
As'atidhat'i, M'ir'it lil-Nashr wa-al-Ma'l'um'at (al-Q' ahirah, Egypt), 2002.
Hawla al-adab wa-al-falsafah, al-D'ar al-Misr'iyah al-Lubn'an'iyah (al-Q'ahirah, Egypt), 2003.
Voices From the Other World: Ancient Egyptian Tales (short stories), translated by Raymond Stock, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Also contributor to Modern Egyptian Short Stories, translated with a critical introduction by El-Gabalawy, York Press, 1977. Contributor to Arabic newspapers, including Ar-Risala and Al-Hilal.
ADAPTATIONS: Sixteen of Mahfouz's novels, including Miramar, have been adapted for films in Egypt.
SIDELIGHTS: Naguib Mahfouz is widely regarded as Egypt's finest writer. While his works were largely unknown in English-speaking countries for most of the twentieth century, the author has nevertheless been viewed by many critics outside the Middle East as the exemplar of Arabic literature. Mahfouz was suddenly cast into the limelight in the West on October 13, 1988, when he became the first Arab writer honored with the Nobel Prize for literature. Prior to his receiving the esteemed award, only a fraction of Mahfouz's more than fifty works had been translated into English; after weeks of negotiations in the fall of 1988, however, Doubleday acquired the English publishing rights to fourteen of the Nobel laureate's books, including four titles that had never before appeared in English.
Mahfouz is credited with popularizing the novel and short story as viable genres in the Arab literary world, where poetry has been the medium of choice among writers for generations. A native of the Gamaliya quarter of Cairo, the author recreates in his writings life on the streets of urban Egypt. His prose works—which have been compared in spirit, tone, and ambience to the raw social realism of nineteenth-century novelists Hon-ore de Balzac and Charles Dickens—reflect Egypt's volatile political history and depict the distressing conditions under which the Arab poor live.
The author established his reputation in American literary circles with the 1981 release, in English translation, of Midaq Alley, a novel that he had originally penned in Arabic in 1947. An evocation of life in a Cairo ghetto, Midaq Alley centers on Hamida, a beautiful girl who escapes the poverty, filth, and contamination of her village by becoming a prostitute for wealthy Allied soldiers. Trevor Le Gassick noted in his introduction to the English edition of the book that "the universal problems of behaviour and morality [Mahfouz] examines remain … the same." Gassick went on to comment, "The aspirations and tragedies of [Midaq Alley's] inhabitants are witnessed with total indifference by the Alley within which the circle of life and death is forever run again."
Mahfouz is best known in the Arab world for his critically acclaimed "Cairo Trilogy," which was written in 1956 and 1957 and translated into English and pub-lished by Doubleday in the early 1990s. Bayn al-qasrayn, the first volume in the trilogy, was published in 1990 as Palace Walk, Qasr al-shawq, the second volume, was published as Palace of Desire: Cairo Trilogy II in 1991, and the last novel in the trilogy, Al Suk-kariya, was published in 1992 as Sugar Street: The Cairo Trilogy III. John Fowles, in his introduction to Mahfouz's Miramar, commented on the long delay in the release of the writer's books in translation for Western readers: "Of all the world's considerable contemporary literature, that in Arabic must easily be the least known…. It is far from easy to translate [the Arabic language] into a pragmatic, almost purely vernacular language like English…. [A] linguistic Iron Curtain has kept us miserably short of first-hand information about the very considerable changes that Egypt has undergone in this century."
Mahfouz's "Cairo Trilogy" chronicles these changes in its fifteen hundred pages, tracing three generations of a middle-class Cairo family. Beginning shortly after World War I, the trilogy moves through the onset and aftermath of the 1952 military coup that overthrew King Farouk—abolishing an Egyptian monarchy—and facilitated the eventual rise of Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser to power.
Although Mahfouz had supported Nasser's revolution at its inception, the author became disillusioned with the colonel's social, educational, and land reforms. After seven years of silence, Mahfouz began to voice his frustrations in his writings, composing the pessimistic and allegorical Children of Gebelawi in 1967. In thinly veiled allusions to the three monotheistic religions, the narrative relates humanity's quest for religion, beginning with Adam and Eve and ending with the last prophet (represented as the modern man of science), who is inadvertently responsible for the death of Gebelawi (God). The 1969 serialization of the novel inflamed Islamic fundamentalists and led to the banning of the manuscript's publication in book form. A new English translation of the book appeared in 1995 under the title Children of the Alley.
In the 1960s Mafouz abandoned the traditional realism that characterized his previous works and began to experiment. He produced shorter, sparer novels that employed many of the experimental techniques—including stream of consciousness and script-like dialogue—of modern Western literature. The Search, written in 1964 and published in English in 1991, tells the story of Saber, the son of a prostitute, a man filled with rage who madly searches the streets of Cairo in an attempt to find the father he has never known. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Edward Hower described the book as "a powerful psychological portrait of a young criminal … reminiscent of the best of George St. Simeon or Graham Greene … a chilling and intriguing novel." Saber conspires with one girlfriend to kill her rich husband while completely deceiving another girlfriend as to his true character. Hower felt that Mahfouz not only reveals the monstrous nature of Saber, but at the same time makes the reader empathize with him.
However, Mahfouz's departure from the realism that established his reputation has not always met with approval. According to Amitav Ghosh, writing in the New Republic, "When the spirit moves Mahfouz to be technically adventurous, it also tends to push him away from his accustomed material, leaving him stranded in various exotic enclaves of society." Two of Mahfouz's more experimental novels, The Thief and His Dogs and Wedding Song, Ghosh dismissed as "frankly, awful." Some critics have seen Mahfouz's shift to more experimental work as a reflection of a conservative retreat from his earlier political stance that favored sweeping changes in Egypt. Feminist critics have also faulted the portrayal of women as stereotyped in Mahfouz's later works, in contrast to the fully realized women characters of his realist period, and have seen this as a negative reaction to the feminist movement.
The 1967 publication of Mahfouz's Miramar, a novel released in the United States in 1983, marked the culmination of the author's disenchantment with the Nasser revolution, a revolution that, according to Fowles, merely "redistributed" Egypt's "wealth and influence … among a new elite." Evaluated by some critics as an unabashed attack on Nasser's political policies, Miramar explores the clashing values in a changing Egypt. As a reaction to the 1952 revolution, continued Fowles, Miramar is haunted by "despair" over the "moral failure" that tainted the newly established republic.
Miramar focuses on a peasant girl named Zohra who, after fleeing from the country to escape an arranged marriage, takes a job as a maid at Miramar, a hotel in Alexandria. Striving for independence, Zohra educates herself. Her beauty and modern ideas, however, incite intrigue, jealousy, and resentment in the residents of Miramar. Told from the points of view of five different fictional characters, the narrative presents in some Egypt in microcosm.
Many of Mahfouz's later works have taken the form of extended fables. Although The Harafish covers thirteen generations and several hundred years, the action of the book all seems to take place in a roughly contemporary setting. The term "harafish" in medieval Arabic refers to the poor elements of society that threaten the social order. Mahfouz's harafish are the common people who inhabit an alley in old Cairo; his protagonists are the leaders of the clan that run the affairs of the alley. The fortunes of the common people rise and fall through the generations depending on the attitudes and morality of their clan leaders.
Taking its inspiration and form directly from A Thousand and One Nights, Arabian Nights and Days is more a loosely connected set of tales than a novel. Richard Dyer in the Boston Globe found the stories in the book just as fabulous but also far more realistic than those narrated by Scheherazade. Whereas Arabian Nights and Days takes the Eastern classic A Thousand and One Nights as its model, The Journey of Ibn Fattouma is based loosely on a classic of Western literature, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Fattouma, a devoted follower of Islam, moves through various mythical lands, driven by a search both for truth and for an ideal woman. In Mashriq, a primitive society of moon-worshipers, Fattouma's senses are awakened by monthly bacchanalian rites. In Aman, he discovers a political tyranny reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984. Although the land of Halba offers him complete freedom and marital bliss, Fattouma travels on, again in pursuit of a woman, to the supposedly perfect society of Gebel, where he hopes to find solutions to the problems that plague his homeland. Joseph Coates, in the Chicago Tribune, stated that The Journey of Ibn Fattouma "adds still another genre to the many [Mahfouz] had worked in a career that in Western terms had already mastered—in literary technique and history—every novel form from Sir Walter Scott through Balzac and [Henry] James and on to the Modernists, including [William] Faulkner and especially [Marcel] Proust, and in the last two decades has toyed with symbolism and postmodern playfulness." At the same time, Coates felt that comparing the book to Gulliver's Travels reveals vast differences in the cultural assumptions between East and West.
Mahfouz's realistic accounts of Egypt's social and political history have earned him both acclaim and condemnation, as have his more experimental and fantastic works. Islamic extremists' failed assassination attempt on Mahfouz in 1994, in which the author was stabbed, and the subsequent execution of those involved, demonstrates how significant and controversial the author's works are considered in the Arab world. Philip Stewart, as cited by Fowles, recalled the author's own assessment of his works: "In relation to European literature, [Mahfouz] said they were 'probably, like the rest of modern Arabic literature, fourth or fifth rate.'" But according to a press release from Stockholm, Sweden, published in the Chicago Tribune, the Swedish Academy saw fit to honor Mahfouz as an author "who, through works rich in nuance—now clearsightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous—has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind."
Mahfouz's popularity in the West has resulted in more than twenty of his books being translated into English. In 1997, Mahfouz's first nonfiction book in English was published. Echoes of an Autobiography contains a series of short autobiographical sketches, some as brief as two or three lines long. Abandoning chronological narrative typical of most autobiographies, Mahfouz instead provides, as pointed out by Richard Woffenden in World Press Review, a "fast-flowing stream of short prose pieces … that meander through adult nostalgia, childhood memories, dreams, parables, and allegories." Woffenden, went on to note that those who like traditional biographies might not appreciate Mahfouz's approach. Nevertheless, he added, "But if the bones of a life are passed over, the spirit is there in full." Booklist contributor Brad Hooper commented that the author is not only concerned with his past in this unusual autobiography but also with how people should live in the present. He added, "Each of these pieces is a brilliantly polished gem that, taken together, form an iridescent mosaic."
Mahfouz's novel Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth was first published in Arabic in 1985 and appeared on Western bookshelves in 2000. Set in the eleventh century B.C., the author tells the story of perhaps the most infamous pharaoh of ancient Egypt, the country's first monotheistic ruler who tried to convince his subjects of his religious vision. The story is told through the eyes of Meriamum, a young boy who seeks the truth about the pharaoh after his death. Meriamum puts together fourteen testimonies as he talks to many of Akhenaten's contemporaries, including his friends, enemies, and wife Nefertiti. The more Meriamum and the reader learn about Akhenaten, the more it becomes apparent that the truth about the "mad" king is increasingly hard to ascertain and fleeting. Brendan Dowling, writing in the Booklist, commented, "Mahfouz populates his engrossing novel with characters that are believably human and flawed; their conflicts with religion and politics have a timeless quality to which readers will respond." A Publishers Weekly contributor praised Mahfouz's ability to appropriate "to wonderful effect, the craft of the biography" in the novel. The reviewer went on to note, "The making of history, like fiction, dwells in its infinite ramifications, and Mahfouz, ever the masterly stylist, accomplishes his lesson flawlessly."
In 2001, a series of conversations and interviews that Mahfouz had over several years with an Egyptian author were published as Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Jaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureate, 1994–2001: From Conversations with Mohamed Salmawy. The book includes more than 100 short vignettes. Ali Houissa, writing in the Library Journal, noted, "Thematically arranged, these pieces offer insights into the way this great writer thinks and his constant concern with the human condition, a principle interest behind the characters and settings he has chosen for many of his novels."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Mahfouz, Naguib, Midaq Alley, Khayats, 1966, revised edition, Heinemann (London, England), 1975, Three Continents (Washington, DC), 1981.
Mahfouz, Naguib, Miramar (novel), Maktabat Misr (Cairo, Egypt), 1967, translation by Fatma Moussa-Mahmoud published under same title, edited and revised by Maged el Kommos and Rodenbeck, introduction by John Fowles, Heinemann (London, England), 1978, Three Continents, 1983.
Milson, Menahem, Najib Mahfuz: The Novelist-Philosopher of Cairo, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Booklist, November 15, 1996, Brad Hooper, review of Echoes of an Autobiography, p. 547; March 15, 2000, Brendan Dowling, review of Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth, p. 1328.
Boston Globe, March 31, 1995, Richard Dyer, "Ancient Fables with Modern Morals," p. 56.
Chicago Tribune, October 14, 1988, "Egyptian Wins Nobel Prize for Literature,", p. 3; August 27, 1992, "Nobel Winner traverses a Cultural and Religious Gap" (review of The Journey of Ibn Fattouma, p. 3.
Economist, March 15, 1997, reviews of Echoes of an Autobiography and Miramar, p. S15.
Library Journal, June 1, 2002, Ali Houissa, review of Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Jaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureate, 1994–2001: From Conversations with Mohamed Salmawy, p. p. 148.
New Republic, May 7, 1990, Amitav Ghosh, "The Human Comedy in Cairo: The Secret, Respectable World of Naguib Mahfouz," p. 32.
New York Times Book Review, August 4, 1991, Edward Hower, review of The Search, p. 724.
Publishers Weekly, November 11, 1996, review of Echoes of an Autobiography, p. 66; February 7, 2000, review of Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth, p. 1328.
World Press Review, July, 1997, Richard Woffenden, review of Echoes of an Autobiography, p. 37.