Megan's Reviews > Palace Walk

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
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May 18, 2012

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bookshelves: historical-fiction, fiction, 3-stars
Read from March 21 to May 18, 2012

After reading the fast-moving, politically intense Karnak Cafe: A Modern Arabic Novel, I wasn't expecting my next work by Naguib Mahfouz to be, at first, a very slow domestic drama. This is the first book in a trilogy following the family of the tyrannical Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, set in Cairo around the time of the 1919 Egyptian revolution. Eventually, the household drama and the political situation interact and intertwine, illuminating Egyptian history and culture in a heartbreaking way.

The first part of the book was often a struggle to read. Mahfouz puts his characters--their emotions, their thoughts, and their actions--under a microscope. Paragraphs upon paragraphs are devoted to a dissection of all possible angles on their every feeling. No character was left one-dimensional. This made for a generally enriching but often overwhelming (and sometimes tedious) reading experience for me. So. Much. Detail. And even with all this character depth, I found the great bulk of characters to be ultimately unsympathetic, which often left me reluctant to spend time with the book.

As the revolution crashed onto the scene, however, I found the book more engaging; the characters' normal routines and behaviors were juggled around, and they were forced into uncomfortable situations, which made for a more interesting read. The complicated dynamics between tyranny in the home and tyranny in the state were portrayed with great care. And, despite my unenthused slogging through the first part of the book, the depth of this latter half of the book wouldn't have been possible without all those preceding chapters. All in all, I did like the book, but I'm more glad to have read it than to still be reading it (it took me a couple months). I'm also looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy, especially having confirmation that the women characters aren't always relegated to the sidelines in these latter books.

Translation-wise, I found the prose to be above average, with thoughtful turns of phrases and metaphors that pulled more than their weight, but there were still times, especially when song lyrics were quoted, that I could sense I was missing out on depth.
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Reading Progress

03/22/2012 page 33
7.0%
03/25/2012 page 111
22.0% ""He had often told himself that if a person had a strong enough will he might be able to carve out more than one future, but no matter how strong his will he could never have more than one inescapable and unavoidable past." (78)"
03/28/2012 page 164
33.0% "Sometimes, even patriarchal attitudes are HILARIOUS. "No daughter of mine will marry a man until I am satisfied that his primary motive for marrying her is a sincere desire to be related to me...me...me...me...me." (157)"
03/31/2012 page 239
48.0% ""Every inch a person's body travels on the road to separation seems like miles to the heart." (231)"
04/05/2012 page 254
51.0% ""Although happiness was not hers to enjoy, it would not be fully realized until she contributed to it." (239)"
04/17/2012 page 303
60.0% ""She paid no attention to the final curse, which she often heard when he was angry or pretending to be angry. She knew it came from his lips and not his heart, which felt quite the opposite way. He was like a mother cat which appears to be devouring her kittens when she is actually carrying them." (288) Hate to break it to you, babe, but he has long since devoured you. :("
04/21/2012 page 332
66.0% ""She almost seemed to have spoken in order to regret it." (312)"
04/23/2012 page 362
72.0% ""Life and death were brothers. They were like one hand in the service of hope. Life strengthened this hope with exertion, and death strengthened it with sacrifice." (357)"
05/13/2012 page 452
90.0% ""News about the strike, acts of sabotage, and the battles had filled him with hope and admiration, but it was a totally different matter for any of these deeds to be performed by a son of his. His children were meant to be a breed apart, outside the framework of history. He alone would set their course for them, not the revolution, the times, or the rest of humanity." (422)"
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