Kavita's Reviews > Palace of Desire

Palace of Desire by Naguib Mahfouz
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it was ok
bookshelves: historical-fiction, classics, africa, egypt

The second in the Cairo Trilogy, Palace of Desire is set six or seven years after the first book. In this book, Ahmad is still the patriarch of the family but gradually sees his control slipping away, Amina (his wife) is still subservient to her husband but has found some freedom, Yasin (eldest son) has remained unchanged to a large extent but he gets remarried, Fahmy (second son) is dead, Khadija (elder daughter) and Aisha (younger daughter) are already married with children, while Kamal (youngest son) has grown up from an irritating little boy to an irritating teenager.

I disliked Kamal. I would avoid this person if I knew him in real life, both as a child and as a teen. Self centred and living in his own little world, this dogmatic idiot spends hours pontificating about religion, politics and love to his friends. There are pages and pages of him going on and on about his love for Aida, and after a few pages, I just skipped them all. I don’t care about Kamal’s stupid love or his stupid political ideas. As time progresses and he becomes more scientific minded, he has endless thoughts on evolution and science as well. Ugh! Why couldn’t have Mahfouz killed Kamal off instead of Fahmy in the previous book? Editing out most of Kamal would have just made this book a much better one.

The politics in this book was nothing but mere conversations and could easily have been dispensed with. Unlike in the first book, interesting events were not shown. Perhaps there was nothing to show during this period but in that case, just desist from boring readers with endless conversations by Kamal & Co. Politics was the strength of the first book, it was the weakness in this one. The political angle was nothing but Kamal mindlessly pontificating about Saad Zaghlul and his friends pontificating about their chosen political views. Nothing actually happens, and this could have been reduced to two paragraphs instead of taking up a quarter of the book.

Just HATED the love angles. Ahmad’s inane love for some lute player was boring enough, but Kamal’s endless ponderings on how lovely his love is simply drags on interminably. I don’t want to know about his silly sufferings and ‘love’ for a girl he hasn’t even spoken to properly. I don’t really give a damn. Kamal can just go jump in a lake and take Aida in with him. Yasin’s affair with all the different women just ran to the same old pattern and there was nothing new. It was only at the end with the big discovery of father and son that things really got interesting.

Reading this book would easily make you believe that it is set in a village with a population of twenty instead of in a large, bustling, crowded capital city of Cairo. Did the father and sons and friends have to sleep with the same women every time? It was interesting and shocking when it happened once but just boring when the same things happens again and again. Maryam’s mother (Ahmad’s neighbour) and Ahmad had an affair in the first book, then Yasin ends up having a brief affair with her. Fahmy was in love with Maryam before he died, and then Yasin marries Maryam here. Ahmad is in love with Zaynab and Yasin ends up marrying her as well. Kamal is in love with Aida, but his friend, Hasan, marries her. Kamal has sex with a prostitute called Ayusha and they discover that Yasin too visits the same prostitute ... I found all this quasi incest stuff really nauseating!

It was surprising that once Ahmad’s shenanigans come to light, his children love and admire him even more instead of being angry or upset about his hypocrisy. I really don’t understand this mentality at all. Why would his children, who have chafed under his tyrannical rule, admire him for having mistresses and being a drunkard? This is especially strange when you consider that all these children love their mother greatly and don’t want to see wrong done to her. This angle was not very believable, especially as Amina’s thoughts and feelings were not put forward.

The women of the family were largely absent from this book. All the less interesting characters like Zaynab and Zubeida got plots but the interesting Khadija and Aisha did not. Aisha was completely non-existent in this book, though Khadija does get a side plot. Her story is very compelling and here, we again get to see her sharp tongue wrecking havoc wherever she goes. Khadija, Aisha and Amina are the most interesting characters in the series and it was sad to see them relegated to a supporting role while the men explored their beyond boring love lives. Mahfouz also missed an opportunity to show some character development for Amina, who does get an interesting character arc, but unfortunately, it remains unexplored.

I would have loved to read more about the Shakawat family. Khalil and Ismail – the men married to the two sisters were from a different culture than the patriarchal household of Ahmed. I loved the glimpse into their contented and progressive lives where the women too gained a bit of freedom. It would have been interesting to have seen more of this duo and to contrast with the male members of Ahmed’s family. It would have been definitely more interesting than Ahmad’s mid-age crisis and Kamal’s idiotic calf love.

I have great hopes of Sugar Street, the final book of the series as the name itself implies that it would be about Aisha and Khadija. Keeping fingers crossed for a lot more of Aisha and Khadija in the final book as well as some really interesting political events taking place in the background, affecting the entire family.
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Reading Progress

September 14, 2014 – Started Reading
September 14, 2014 – Shelved
September 24, 2014 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
September 24, 2014 – Shelved as: classics
September 24, 2014 – Finished Reading
January 23, 2015 – Shelved as: africa
January 10, 2017 – Shelved as: egypt

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Hana (last edited Oct 22, 2015 04:30PM) (new)

Hana I totally loved Palace Walk. I've been meaning to read the sequels for ages. So do you you think it's worth going through the book just to find out what happened? Or should I cheat and Google to find the ending ;)?

message 2: by Kavita (last edited Oct 22, 2015 10:59PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kavita Hana wrote: "I totally loved Palace Walk. I've been meaning to read the sequels for ages. So do you you think it's worth going through the book just to find out what happened? Or should I cheat an..."

I was disappointed with this book, but I think the third book, Sugar Street, is worth a read. It shows the next generation of grandsons and granddaughters and has a feminist and a gay. ;) But keep in mind that Palace Walk was really unique, and Mahfouz doesn't manage to recreate the magic or you would be disappointed, lol.

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