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

The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz
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Jul 19, 2007

it was amazing
Read in July, 2007

this was my review written for the first volume in this trilogy:

The Palace Walk is the best novel I have read in years. In the translation published by the Everyman Library the Cairo Trilogy is funny, biting and tragic with precise descriptions and deeply thought out characters. Though I haven’t read much of the great western popular novelists of the 19th century (meaning, Balzac, Dickens, etc) I get the impression that Mafouz was heavily influenced by them. This book is descriptive of setting and the psychological motives of the characters in a way that is totally out of fashion in today’s fiction. I ate up the long thought passages of the law student son in love with a neighbor he has barely seen, or the minute description’s of the mother’s daily ritual. The characters slowly open to us through daily experience and then, without warning, a tragedy or celebration occurs. The pacing and writing make for a book that hits that sweet spot between well written and highly readable. Unlike so many serious modern authors, reading Mafouz is not work, but it isn’t candy like some of the other trash I have been reading lately.

People’s reactions to Mafouz here in Cairo are interesting. First, they are surprised I have even heard of him. Then, they talk about the movies. In my experience, odds are they haven’t read him. Since I have been here I have heard Mafouz described as a national hero, and as being anti-Islam. I have heard that he exaggerates the traits of Egyptians, that he is the greatest Arabic novelist of all time and that he is boring. I can’t really speak to whether or not he exaggerates the traits of Egyptians, I imagine he does, but I do think he is one of the best novelists I have read in a long long time. It’s exciting to get to read him here, but also a bit of an embarrassment that it took me coming to Egypt to get me to read his books.
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Kipahni I have had the same reaction when I ask people in upper egypt about mafouz too! all of them have never read a book but many have seen the movies.


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