Kipahni's Reviews > The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk / Palace of Desire / Sugar Street

The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz
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's review
Feb 09, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: reading-in-egypt, 2009-books, run-away-in-the-mind, nobel-laureates
Read in March, 2009

** spoiler alert ** I audibly huff while reading this book. It also was pointed out to me by my husband that I said "Arg" like a pirate a few times as well.
But I can not help it. Everything that I love and hate about Egyptian Culture is told beautifully in this somewhat "daytime soap" drama. I call it soap because my american view point see's it that way, and yet the story he tells is not so far fetched as that some of my own neighbors are living out very similiar dramas.
I am not finished with this Magnus Opus of Mafouz's but Here are a collection of thoughts so far (stars are pending on the ending of the book)
1. All of his woman are either Saintly Woman, or lurid whores. Which at first I found irritated but then come to realize that this is a general view of a lot of Egyptian men (not all, but a lot).
2. Some cultural significance might be lost in the western mind who is unfamiliar with Egyptian culture. Like the flow of conversation may seem odd or when there is a big shame in the family, in the western mind it may think "What's the big deal?"

more to come later

I decide to give a 4 because, it either should have ended like 200 pages ago or gone on another 200 more, the ending was a little weak. If you are reading to escape, or to enjoy/despise a character then this is a good choice.

Some things to keep in mind when reading this

1. The men treat woman as a commadity and the only redeeming virtue she has is if she is a virgin when she marries and if she can bear and raise children. This is still apparent in rural villages and traces are still felt 50 years later. Mahfouz is giving an acurate account of how the majority of woman are viewed and view themself. (in one part a college girl only went to get an education because she wanted to marry an educated man, not to expand her mind. A practice very common here still because most woman don't marry for love, a recent development in marraige, they marry for security)

2. People get places because of who they know not because of qualifications, so having a high status or knowing someone of high status is priority.

3. Woman are really that submissive in this culuture. It may seem unreal or fake in the book, but it is true. There hasn't been any Womens Lib-feminist movement so it is still extremely male dominate

4. You may laugh at the dichotomy of how the men lived (pious infront of their wives, strict adherant to Islam, and then sleeping around and giving in to all lustful pleasures) but in Islamic religion it is believed that if one just observe ramadan (the fasting month) then all past sins are forgiven (and I have been told that also any future sins) so it was permissible in their minds to behave accordingly.

I still am a little puzzled why Mahfouz makes some of his woman characters such lustful, sex crazed woman, but I think that too is chalked up to culture (One of the prevailing reasons FGM is still practiced is because woman are considered more sexually active and will have uncontrolled lust if she doesn't have the procedure done)

All in all a pretty acurate look into the society in Egypt during the early revolutionary years (1900-1950 ish)
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Reading Progress

02/09/2009 page 274
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Dayna (new)

Dayna Interesting. I'm excited to read your final review!

message 2: by Amy (new)

Amy I started to read Palace Walk and became so disgusted at the way the men acted toward or viewed the women in the story that I put it down. I was definitely "arg"ing like a pirate while reading. I'm interested to see what you think of it as a whole actually being more familiar with the truth of the culture.

message 3: by Amy (new)

Amy Wow. How different Islam has transformed the culture in Egypt than in other countries. I wonder if anyone's ever done a study of that sort of thing: culture A + religion Q = new culture R. This is so very different than the way the Saudi men treat their women based on the same religious values.

Kipahni I agree Amy. I feel that perhaps the Bedouin laws and superstitions have a lot of play as well as the pharaohs establishment of hierarchy might as well. Islam is not the only transforming culture. Christianity in Pagan Britain, or Christianity in Roman culture could be pointed to as well.

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