Thursday, August 31, 2006

Naguib Mahfouz

Mahfouz won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature, and survived an assassination attempt after a fatwa was issued against him, but his work has seldom been mentioned in the literary press, and is hard to find in libraries and bookshops. It is ironic that we can read more about him now that he is dead than we could while he was alive.

Independent obituary:
"His narrative world is peopled with characters from all walks of Egyptian life, from beggars to aristocrats, with a special place reserved for the intellectuals with whom Mahfouz identifies. On the literary plane, his career spans the whole process of development of the Arabic novel from the historical to the modernistic and lyrical. He earned the Arabic novel respect and popularity and lived to see it flourish in the work of numerous writers throughout the Arab world."

Guardian obituary:
"Born in Gamaliya in the old city of Cairo, the son of a minor official, the writer spent his first years in the distinctive medieval atmosphere with its narrow lanes, clustered overhanging buildings and picturesque artisans. Its features became part of his consciousness and are brought to life in some of his early realistic novels and, more particularly, in The Cairo Trilogy on which, both in the Arab world and in the west, his fame in great part rests.",,1861320,00.html

Counterpunch reprints an article written about Mahfouz by the late Edward Said in 2001: "despite his transparent manner, Mahfouz is dauntingly sophisticated not only as an Arabic stylist but as an assiduous student of social process and epistemology--that is, the way people know their experiences--without equal in his part of the world, and probably elsewhere for that matter. The realistic novels on which his fame rests, far from being only a dutiful sociological mirror of modern Egypt, are also audacious attempts to reveal the highly concrete way power is actually deployed."