Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Cairo Modern” as Want to Read:
Cairo Modern
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Cairo Modern

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  4,309 ratings  ·  602 reviews
The novelist's camera pans from the dome of King Fuad University (now Cairo University) to students streaming out of the campus, focusing on four students in their twenties, each representing a different trend in Egypt in the 1930s. Finally the camera comes to rest on Mahgub Abd al-Daâim. A scamp, he fancies himself a nihilist, a hedonist, an egotist, but his personal vuln ...more
Hardcover, 242 pages
Published May 15th 2008 by American University in Cairo Press (first published 1945)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.02  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,309 ratings  ·  602 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Cairo Modern
Nov 08, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't expecting much when I snagged this book off the "new" shelf at the library, but I have to say that I found this novel to be the most compelling Mahfouz writing I've encountered. It's certainly less picturesque than the Cairo Trilogy, but UNLIKE the Cairo Trilogy you don't have to "get" Egypt to understand the driving forces behind the novel. Does it help? Sure, especially if you have any fluency in modern Egyptian history or have gone head-to-head with the Egyptian bureaucracy. I was st ...more
Jim Leffert
This classic novel depicts three young friends at a university in Cairo in the 1930’s all of whom question the direction they should go at a time when the society is experiencing difficulties. One youth chooses Islam as his lodestar, the other, science and socialism, and the third, a poor young man named Mahgub, secretly chooses nihilism. He resolves to allow no sentimental attachments or moral compunctions to interfere with ruthless, cunning, and unyielding pursuit of personal advancement. The ...more
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
Cairo Modern by the 1988 Nobel Prize winner in Literature Naguib Mahfouz tells the story of Mahgub, a young, proud, embittered, and poverty-stricken university student in 1930s Cairo. The translation is by William M. Hutchins.

The novel opens with Mahgub and his three friends discussing the current state of Egyptian politics, philosophy, religion, the changing role of women, and the best methodology for resolving the ills of society. Mahgub conceals his poverty from his friends while eyeing their
Apr 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
I like all the books Mahfouz wrote in the 1940's, including the intense The Beginning and the End and the eclectic Midaq Alley. This book doesn't quite measure up to the literary power the author displays in the other two. The story is too linear and it unfolds in too predictable a manner. Still, it's Mahfouz. Need I say more?

Set in 1934, the story explores three visions of the future in the form of the lives of three students newly graduated from college. Which approach to life will work best?
No one comes out of this story smelling like roses in this tightly written faustian satire. Not Mahgub the poor struggling student who takes a desperate gamble to obtain a government position and shuns his family and friends. Not Ihsan who becomes Mahgub's wife as a sham sponsored by her rich older lover. And certainly not Egypt where corruption and nepotism is rife. And the moral; nothing stays the same so have a Plan B. ...more
Marwah  .Qoura
The movie is equally amazing ...
After reading Cairo Modern and Son Excellence, I can tell Naguib Mahfouz doesn’t write feel-good stories. He seems to like looking at people and their faults, and Cairo Modern gave the reader a good look at a person consumed by ambition and devoid of morals. I particularly enjoyed reading about Cairo before WW2, seeing how the government worked (based on references and family ties), and how different life is for people born into good circumstances. Mahgub and Ihsan’s story was an anxious read fo ...more
Ahmad Alsibai
Sep 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's interesting how most of the reviews were written by English speaking readers. ُThis speaks for the international reputation Mahfouz books has. I read this novel in arabic, and like other Mahfouz books I read before, I did enjoy every piece of it.
Mahfouz is an expert in revealing the psychological experience of his novel characters, their inner dialogue and their struggle. This novel is a story about nihilism and lack of moral compass, and the darkness and emptiness that comes with such phi
Arthur K.  Richards
Book was dreadfully slow to pick up but upon its climax I found no other reason than the quick rise and fall of the characters to blame.

The book quickly became a page turner that made ones heart turn with every page. Riveting, sickening and wholly saddening by the end. Prepare for a story rich in romance, religious sarcasm and egotism.

Mahfouz remains a literary giant with his style of prose that sucks you in and switches between characters seamlessly.
Marwan Hamed
Nov 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You know the feeling when you come by a novel and you feel that it is missing nothing? As if it has been written EXACTLY in the way it was supposed to be written? This is what this novel felt like.
Naguib again never fails to show us the true ugly face of our community, and maybe that of the human race. Our three main characters are a reflection of three personalities; Those who believe the answers are in their religion, Those who believe the answers are in their hard work, and
Kenneth P.
Feb 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa

This book is a carefully constructed, symmetrical allegory of Egypt in 1930. Having recently emerged as a new nation, Egypt is no longer beneath Great Britain's heel. It's a perfect time to focus on a group of young university graduates who represent the future of a new nation. There is a religious zealot who believes that pure Islam can only purify a country. There is a hard core socialist who (having relinquished Mecca for Moscow) sees strict political reform as the answer. Then there is Mahgu
James F
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
His first novel set in modern times (King Fuad University and Cairo generally during the 1930's), and written a decade before The Cairo Trilogy, this book also deals with the theme of Egyptian politics and culture; although he begins the story with three friends, one an Islamicist, one a liberal with socialist leanings, and one a nihilistic opportunist, the story ends up focused on the third character, his rise and fall. He explores the role of poverty and inequality in corrupting politics and s ...more
Uswa Anjum
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Do you ever read a book and get this intense urge to get inside the pages and warn the protagonist about his immense wrongdoings? Because you feel that your perspective is revealing aspects hidden from those inside the pages.

That's how I felt. A book about 4 young students discussing faith, philosophy, politics and other broad issues. And then all of a sudden one of them makes a Faustian bargain. Oh he shouldn't have...
Jan 06, 2022 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting read with lots of greater philosophical metaphors, not sure if this style of writing is for everyone since it wasn’t *that* enticing for much of it but I’m very interested in middle eastern literature/history so it was a good sneak peak into the political landscape of 1930s Egypt!
Apr 21, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
DNF at 25%
I liked the other Mahfouz book I read A LOT but this one was super boring and the translation just didn’t work for me.
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From the perspective of the pleasure-seeking fiction reader, this book was wonderful. The prose was delightful - lots of lovely phrases, plenty of gorgeous sensory detail, and just enough drama to make your heart race a little. You know how they say reading makes you more empathetic? This was a textbook example. I knew that Mahgub was a horrible person and yet I felt for him and when things were going badly for him I couldn't help but hope that he would be okay. So although not all of the charac ...more
Feb 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Man alive! Another good book!

I remember seeing and reading a lot about Naguib Mahfouz when I liven in the UK...he was on TV a bit, in the papers...that was probably around the time he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. Anyway this book just jumped out at me at the library and since I am especially a sucker for those cultures where Islam and the West collide (North Africa, Turkey, former Yugoslavia etc.) I enjoyed this book a ton.

The basic story at heart is a very traditional morality-pl
Sep 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
"Listen, son," an experienced worker, a librarian, advises, "Forget your qualifications. Don't waste money on applying for a job. The question boils down to one thing: Do you have someone who will intercede for you? Are you related to someone in a position of power? Can you become engaged to someone in the government?"

Thus, the plot of Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo Modern, written in 1945, now available from Anchor Books in an engaging translation by William B. Hutchins. The book tracks a trio of unive
Oct 15, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
On the surface, a quick and easy read. It has a delicious, soap-opera style love triangle story that just keeps you turning the pages. But on a deeper level, it is about man's (un)willingness to play the hand he is dealt - Maghub was born poor and destined for a life of destitution. He adopted a philosophy of nihilism to deal wtih actions he wanted to take in order to get himself out of his poverty. When looked at through that lens, it is more difficult to judge him for the actions he took. Mahf ...more
May 17, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I picked up this book because the author's name sounded familiar. (Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz wrote many novels, short stories, plays and movie scripts, and won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature. He was the first Arab to receive the honor.)

I was delighted and surprised by how modern the story felt, but that surprise probably comes from my ignorance about Egypt and an unfounded but persistent tendency to be surprised at the sophistication and progressive thinking of the early 19th century.

Apr 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary, translation
I was liking it about 2/3 of the way through, but it's a very short book and I don't think Mahfouz used the minimal space properly to develop the theme: by the time the story gets into the flow of Mahgub's abandonment of morality and presages the consequences, it's already over and he has experienced the most likely outcome of his lofty ideals (or lack thereof).

In a way it was like Scott Fitzgerald, the selfishness of modernity under guise of self-interestedness and the natural result of such b
May 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
Hand-picked this book randomly from the library, and so glad I did! Mahfouz has done a terrific job in revealing the complexity of morality and ethics that continues to throw us into dilemma. On the whole it's a very simple and easy read that subtly delves into the despicable world of corruption and the battles of a desperate novice.

Oh Mahgub!!! Reminds me a lot of "fair is foul and four is fair." I was constantly outraged by Mahgub's impudence while still wanting him to succeed. Although his "t
Sherelyn Ernst
Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but I think something is lost for me in translation. This gives a great sense, though, of the hardships of a poor Egyptian striver in pre-independence Egypt and the resulting difficulties his selfish ego creates for himself. Mafouz critiques the inequality and unfairness of Egyptian society at the same time and does a great job of making an unsavory character sympathetic--or at least more understandable. It actually made me feel I understood the Eyptia ...more
Jack Cheng
The library calls and so I skimmed, rather than, carefully read this book.

I was amazed at just how modern a novel it is, with plenty of sexual desire, political ambition and nihilism. At the same time, it's also very Modern, as it fits well with authors like Camus or Sartre. At the same time, there is a lot of texture of Egypt and Arab culture, as well as colonial machinations that make it very much about Cairo. Good title!

Set in the late 1930s and published in 1945, we follow Maghoub as he agre
Ann B
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In Cairo Modern we find yet another original and fascinating novel, well translated. Mahfouz explores immorality by using an amoral protagonist with three good friends who draw strength and inspiration from their personal backgrounds. As poverty looms, the anti-hero's struggle with filial duty, loneliness, lust, and the transition from studies to career offers unbelievable opportunity at the cost of everything considered right. Cairo Modern is the readable equivalent of a film noir, with all the ...more
Annie Mesaros
This book was alright. It was a fast read in that I could read it quickly...but the story itself was really slow and really lacking on action. It was originally written in Arabic by an Egyptian writer, so I wonder if the lack of appeal is that it was coming from a different cultural perspective?

The main character is interesting. And at the end, it did leave me wondering momentarily what happened after that.

Overall, I don't have any good reason to recommend it to you.
Eh. Some interesting ideas here about morality and society, and I enjoyed the 1940's Cairo setting. The writing and translation are good, too. But I just detested the main character so much (as the author intended) that 240 pages felt very long. Plus, from a feminist standpoint, Cairo Modern just wasn't modern enough for my taste.
Blue bookcase review here:
A revealing look at the undercurrent of society in 30's Cairo. A recent university graduate attempts to break free from his apparent lot in life as one of the urban, lower class. The question is a timeless one, how much of honor and dignity is one willing to lose in exchage for money, power and prestige? The book was interesting, but I am afraid that like most things I have read that are translated from the Arabic, it suffered in translation. ...more
Lisa Silverman
Aug 28, 2009 rated it liked it
Hampered by a stilted translation (the Egyptian main character at one point calls his wife "champ"), as well as supporting characters who exist only to represent various social and political philosophies. Still, an intriguing look at the conflicts and contradictions in 1930 Egypt, most of which probably haven't changed much. ...more
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A "light" story compared to Mahfouz's more famous (and amazing) Cairo Trilogy. Cairo Modern is not at all connected with the Trilogy, aside from being set in the same city. So the order you read them doesn't matter. Well crafted story about a young man desperate for a job and prestige who gets in over his head. ...more
« previous 1 3 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
مأمون رضوان ...اخوانجى نجيب محفوظ 1 55 Aug 23, 2012 04:49PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • العودة سائحا إلى كاليفورنيا
  • خبز على طاولة الخال ميلاد
  • أم ميمي
  • ماكيت القاهرة
  • أولاد حارتنا
  • أفيون وبنادق: سيرة سياسية واجتماعية لخط الصعيد الذي دوخ ثلاث حكومات
  • وكالة عطية
  • يوميات نائب في الأرياف
  • الحرام
  • مصر القديمة
  • الدحيحة: نجيب محفوظ
  • الوتد
  • فتح بطن التاريخ
  • الدحيح: ما وراء الكواليس
  • ما فعله العيان بالميت
  • خالتي صفية والدير
  • حجرتان وصالة: متتالية منزلية
  • ورثة آل الشيخ
See similar books…
Naguib Mahfouz (Arabic author profile: نجيب محفوظ) was an Egyptian writer who won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature. He published over 50 novels, over 350 short stories, dozens of movie scripts, and five plays over a 70-year career. Many of his works have been made into Egyptian and foreign films. ...more

Related Articles

  Cross-genre explorers, history nerds, and recovering English majors will want to spend some time with this specially curated collection...
119 likes · 18 comments
“الشرفُ قيدٌ لا يَغلُّ إلا أعناقَ الفقراءِ” 161 likes
“. العادة كفيلة بأن تجعل الألم غير أليم” 145 likes
More quotes…