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Palace of Desire by Naguib Mahfouz
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The second novel in The Cairo Trilogy begins in 1926, seven years from where Palace Walk left off. Egypt is no longer a British protectorate, after the passage of the Unilateral Declaration of Egyptian Independence in 1922, but it has not yet won complete freedom from British rule. As a result, the country is in a state of relative calm in comparison to the 1919 revolution, but leaders of different factions, most notably Sa'ad Zaghlul of the Wafd Party, continued to press for independence. Egypt is ruled by its new King, Fuad I, the former Sultan of Egypt during the protectorate period. He and his wealthy supporters are more closely aligned with the British than with the populist Wafd Party, which adds to the nationalists' ever increasing calls for a government led by the people.

Palace of Desire continues the saga of the family of al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, the Cairene merchant owner. He remains an iron fisted tyrant at home, demanding complete loyalty and strict adherence to the Qur'an by his wife and children, while he continues to enjoy the company of his friends, wine and women outside of it. The main character in this second novel is Kamal, al-Sayyid Ahmad's youngest son, who has matured from a wildly passionate and irreverent youth to become an intense but naïve student who loves philosophy and literature and is a fervent supporter of the Wafd Party. His greatest love, however, is for Aïda, the sister of one of his classmates and his closest confidant, who comes from a wealthy family that is aligned with the King rather than the Wafd Party, spends its summers in Paris, and has turned away from the strict teachings of Islam. Kamal's friends reflect the different middle and upper class segments of Egyptian society, and their political and philosophical discussions portray the different viewpoints held by them.

Meanwhile, Kamal's father and stepbrother Yasin provide comic relief, as the two continue to wallow ever more deeply in the mud of hedonism. Kamal's mother, his sisters and their families occupy a more peripheral role than they did in the first novel. There is also less tension and drama outside of the Abd al-Jawad family, due to the absence of British soldiers and street protests that ended four years earlier.

Palace of Desire isn't nearly as compelling as its predecessor, Palace Walk, but it is still a superb portrait of an ordinary middle class Cairene family and Egyptian society in the mid-1920s, and is highly recommended.
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Reading Progress

August 1, 2012 – Started Reading
August 5, 2012 – Shelved
August 5, 2012 – Finished Reading

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