15. Book 15: Egypt (English): The Cairo Trilogy (Naguib MAHFOUZ)
1. Palace Walk = Bayn al-qasrayn
MAHFOUZ, Naguib (1911 – 2006), Palace Walk, translated from Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins & Olive E. Kenny, American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, 2001 (originally published 1956), ISBN 978-977-424-681-4
2. Palace of Desire = Qasr al-shawq
Naguib Mahfouz, Palace of Desire, translated from Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins & Olive E. Kenny, American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, 2001 (originally published 1957), ISBN 978-977-424-682-1
3. Sugar Street = al-Sukkariyya
Naguib Mahfouz, Sugar Street, translated from Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins & Olive E. Kenny, American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, 2001 (originally published 1957), ISBN 978-977-424-683-8
She woke at midnight. She always woke up then without having to rely on an alarm clock. A wish that had taken root in her awoke her with great accuracy. For a few moments she was not sure she was awake. Images from her dreams and perceptions mixed together in her mind. She was troubled by anxiety before opening her eyes, afraid sleep had deceived her. Shaking her head gently, she gazed at the total darkness of the room. There was no clue by which to judge the time. The street noise outside her room would continue until dawn. She could hear the babble of voices from the coffeehouses and bars, whether it was early evening, midnight, or just before daybreak. She had no evidence to rely on except her intuition, like a conscious clock hand, and the silence encompassing the house, which revealed that her husband had not yet tapped at the door and that the tip of his stick had not yet struck against the steps of the staircase.
(Palace Walk, translated by William Maynard Hutchins & Olive E. Kenny)
This is a very long family saga (trilogy), which took me ages to get through. I guess it’s Egypt’s War and Peace (although with not much war). It begins with a sequestered wife (Amina) waiting for her husband (al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad) to return home late and drunk. The women in this family have to bite their lips (mostly) and put up with an enormous amount of bad behaviour from their menfolk, right through the work. Whereas her husband, the family patriarch, is respected by everyone, even though, as we will learn, he has some shocking skeletons in his closet. The characters of their children reveal themselves wonderfully as generation follows generation – the garrulous Khadija, the lovely Aisha, the doomed Fahmy, Yasin, the pensive Kamal, not to mention their neighbours and colleagues…
The second volume, Palace of Desire, is perhaps the least interesting of the trilogy. Everyone seems to be behaving badly, even with the same woman! It is occasionally annoying where long periods, even whole chapters, pass with the ‘he’ not being named so you’re not sure who is being referred to!
I love Mafouz’s writing, although I prefer some of his other works (such as Arabian Days and Nights) to this, his undoubted masterpiece. It’s so multifaceted that it’s like a little world to itself.