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Palace of Desire by Naguib Mahfouz
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Apr 02, 12


Although published as a trilogy, Mahfouz' story of a Cairo family was originally written as a single novel. "Palace of Desire" is one-third out of roughly the middle of it. The time is now the 1920s, and the focus is chiefly on three characters, the father, Al-Sayyid Ahmad, and his two sons, Yasin and Kamal. Desire as a theme runs strongly through the entire trilogy, and it emerges here in three very different ways. The older man feels the beginnings of age interfere with his extramarital dalliances and his life of nightly good fellowship with friends and female company. The older of his two sons is a heedless Don Juan, bored with his wives soon after he marries them. The younger son experiences his first true love and is tormented night and day, first by her teasing interest in him and then in the discovery of her real feelings. Meanwhile, there is a kind of high comedy in the ongoing conflicts between the father's two daughters and their mother-in-law.

Mahfouz also explores class differences in this part of his story, where Kamal, the younger son, is introduced through a school friend to a wealthy, westernized family. His coming of age, loss of innocence, and discovery of a world very different from the sheltered life he has known make this part of the story especially poignant. References to the changing political climate in post-WWI Egypt reflect the theme of national independence from British dominance that Mahfouz has followed from the beginning of the trilogy. Altogether, Mahfouz' family saga, with its interwoven threads of related storylines is a joy to read.
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