Egypt´s most world famous author, Naguib Mahfouz
,the first arab writer to recieve the Nobel Prize for litterature in 1988 died this morning
Born on December 11th 1911, he lived in the district of Gamaliyya in Cairo during his childhood, and went to King Fuad university, where he studied english and philosophy. Being a civil servant all his life, first in the ministry of religious endovements and later on in the ministry of culture, and working in journalism for al Ahram writing a column until the day he died(after the murder attempt on his life in October 1994, he wasn´t able to write anymore, but he used to dictate he´s colums).
He´s books portrays the city of Cairo and it´s people of all walks of life. Prefering the environment that´s he´s intrinsicly familliar with, and a part of, he´s stories from his old neigbourhood of al Gamaliyya and Khan al Khalili, as well as Abasiyya later on paint´s fantastic characters, that will live on long after as a legacy, and document of time over Cairo and Egypt´s past century.
Hovever, his first years as an author was dedicated to the Pharaonic times, publishing his first novel in 1939. It was not until 6 years later with Khan al Khalili, that he started the journey of exploring the mix of tradition and modernity among the people in urban Cairo, that came to be his trademark from then on. Always intunned and connected to the people and millieu´s that he described.
He is probably more known in Egypt and the arab world, through the numerous films that is based on his novels, indeed the portrait of Sayyid abd al Gawwad in the Cairo trilogy, has become the archtype for the family patriarh in Egyptian film. We all remember the scene when he comes home from a buisness trip, and finds his wife, Amina in bed with a broken leg, caused by a car accident while having been to visit the Husseini mosque next door for the first time, although having lived in the neighbourhood for tventy or so years. This is the first time she leaves the house without permission from her husband, something that simply wasn´t done 85 years ago.The highly religious Nena opted to do this after partly being persuaded by her children, and partly by her desire to finaly be able to visit the shrine. The consequenes are dire, she´s being sent back to her fathers house. My favourite however is the son, Yassin.
Other famous novels are Zuqqaq al Midaq(Midaq Alley), Haderet al Muhtaram(Respected sir),Thartara fawq al nil(adrift on the Nile), came in 1966, and many belive that the author predicted the utter failure of the Egyptian army in the war of 1967 in that novel. Miramar is one of only book about modern Egypt that is not about Cairo. It´s set in Alexandria, and is seen as the Egyptian answer to Lawrence Durells famous Alexandria Quartet.
Awlad haretna(Children of Gabalawi) from 1959, who like many of he´s books first came out in serialized form in newspapers caused an uproar within the highest authority in Sunni Islam, the al Alzar university, with demonstrations outside al Ahram, with the subseqent result of banning the book. It was not published in full until 2006 in Egypt. The novel should come back to haunt him later on in his life, when this book was used by the militant islamist cleric, Umar abd al Rahman to issue a fatwa on Mahfouz, accusing him for blasphemy. The attempt on his life in 1994, was probably made with this in mind, although the culprit was not familliar with any of Mahfouz writings.
One of his most political books was written in 1983,Amam al'arsh (Before the Throne), where he puts all the historic leaders of Egypt since Mena(Narmer) unified the country to the present day, ending with Sadat before the throne of Osiris where the will be judged for their deeds.
The circle was perhaps closed when his two last books Akhnaten(1992) and Seventh heaven(2004), dealt with subjects that he wrote a great deal about early on, going back to the historical setting and the eternal question of afterlife, something that has intrigued people in Egypt and caused lot of soulsearching and thought trueout it´s history from pharaonic times till today.
May god rest his soul and Ba on his way to the seventh heaven.
A good summary of his work can be found here Naguib Nahfouz, Mahfouz dead , Cairo trilogy, litterature in Egypt, Arab litterature, Egypt