Steve's Reviews > Palace of Desire

Palace of Desire by Naguib Mahfouz
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it was ok

** spoiler alert ** This second book in Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy feels like nothing more than a drawn out ending to the first book. Only one new character, Aida, enters the story, and even she is of little or no significance by the end of the book. Ahmad continues his drunkenness and debauchery with Bahija, Zubayda, and Zanuba until a seizure puts the fear of death into him, hopefully strongly enough to mend his behavior. Yasin demonstrates his similarity to his father by continuing to drink and by defiling himself with all his father’s favorites except Bahija, whose daughter he marries and divorces after she catches him being unfaithful to her. He settles – if one may call it that – with Zanuba, and the book ends with her in labor with their first child. Fahmy lives on only as a memory that softens the family members’ hearts toward one another. Kamal gives the reader hope of a single righteous son coming from the al-Sayyid family until he, too, turns to prostitutes and drinking to drown his sorrows over losing his beloved and idealized Aida to one of his friends, Hasan Salim.
Perhaps revealing his feelings about women’s influence in society, Mahfouz largely neglects developing the females in the family further than mentioning the existence of their children. Khadija enters the story almost parenthetically when her mother-in-law calls Ahmad to their home to punish her for being recalcitrant. Aisha’s family plays little role in the story until they develop typhoid at the very end of the book as sort of an afterthought to provide a cliffhanger ending. Amina’s character development happens not during the book, but during the period between its beginning and the end of Palace Walk. During that time she became heartbroken and bitter because of Fahmy’s death and Maryam’s betrayal of his memory. Amina acts at times as a mediator, but plays far less of a role in this book than she did in Palace Walk.
Several underlying political messages caught my attention, statements about the younger generation’s faith in words, logic, and science as opposed to the Old Guard’s use of force. Likewise, Kamal’s relationship with the Shaddad family outlines the racial and class conflicts in postwar Egypt. I have to wonder whether Naguib Mahfouz experienced extreme personal difficulties tantamount to those he ascribes to his characters, because through all of his books he writes of false love in marriage but glorifies sibling affection.

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Reading Progress

November 25, 2003 – Started Reading
November 25, 2003 – Finished Reading
June 11, 2018 – Shelved

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