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Book Club Picks > SEPTEMBER 2010: The Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz

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message 1: by Novel Tea Book Club (last edited Oct 03, 2010 08:54AM) (new)

Novel Tea Book Club  (NovelTeaBookClubModerator) | 38 comments Mod
The SEPTEMBER 2010 NTBC book choice was:

The Palace Walk
by Naguib Mahfouz

The Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz was a big hit with members of the NTBC.

We thought that this novel, the first of The Cairo Trilogy, was a beautifully written work. It is flooded with amazing psychological insight and cultural awareness. The Palace Walk manages to take you to into early 20th century Egypt and deposit you right in the middle of a devout Muslim family headed by a tyrant that almost defies description. The reader learns to know each member of the family as they are examined in turn through the novel. Once you feel like you are part of the family then history and its events begin to take hold and you are swept into the Egyptian Revolution of 1919.

We enjoyed the journey of this novel. It was very believable and kept the reader's attention throughout. We found it interesting to learn about a culture so different from our own and to be introduced to a new way of thinking about the world.

We found it difficult to stop thinking about the characters within this novel. All of us agreed that we will continue on with the rest of the trilogy in our own reading.

NTBC would recommend The Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz to any book club. Although it is a large novel with just over 500 pages, it is well worth the effort. Mahfouz was well deserving of his Nobel Prize for literature and anyone that takes the time to experience his work will always be grateful.

Our rating: 4.5/5 stars.

Synopsis: This extraordinary novel provides a close look into Cairo society at the end of World War I. Mahfouz's vehicle for this examination is the family of al-Sayyid Ahmad, a middle-class merchant who runs his family strictly according to the Qur'an and directs his own behavior according to his desires. Consequently, while his wife and two daughters remain cloistered at home, and his three sons live in fear of his harsh will, al-Sayyid Ahmad nightly explores the pleasures of Cairo.

message 2: by Kokeshi (last edited Oct 03, 2010 07:53AM) (new)

Kokeshi | 48 comments Naguib Mahfouz (Arabic: نجيب محفوظ‎, Nagīb Maḥfūẓ) (December 11, 1911 – August 30, 2006) was an Egyptian writer who won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature. He is regarded as one of the first contemporary writers of Arabic literature, along with Tawfiq el-Hakim, to explore themes of existentialism. 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.

Early life and education
Born into a lower middle-class Muslim family in the Gamaleyya quarter of Cairo, Mahfouz was named after Professor Naguib Pasha Mahfouz (1882–1974), the renowned Coptic physician who delivered him. Mahfouz was the seventh and the youngest child in a family that had five boys and two girls. The family lived in two popular districts of the town, in el-Gamaleyya, from where they moved in 1924 to el-Abbaseyya, then a new Cairo suburb; both provided the backdrop for many of Mahfouz's writings. His father, whom Mahfouz described as having been "old-fashioned", was a civil servant, and Mahfouz eventually followed in his footsteps. In his childhood Mahfouz read extensively. His mother often took him to museums and Egyptian history later became a major theme in many of his books.

The Mahfouz family were devout Muslims and Mahfouz had a strictly Islamic upbringing. In an interview, he painfully elaborated on the stern religious climate at home during his childhood years. He stated that "You would never have thought that an artist would emerge from that family."

The Egyptian Revolution of 1919 had a strong effect on Mahfouz, although he was at the time only seven years old. From the window he often saw British soldiers firing at the demonstrators, men and women. "You could say," he later noted, "that the one thing which most shook the security of my childhood was the 1919 revolution." After completing his secondary education, Mahfouz entered King Fouad I University (now the University of Cairo), where he studied philosophy, graduating in 1934. By 1936, having spent a year working on an M.A., he decided to become a professional writer. Mahfouz then worked as a journalist at er-Risala, and contributed to el-Hilal and Al-Ahram. The major Egyptian influence on Mahfouz's thoughts of science and socialism in the 1930s was Salama Moussa, the Fabian intellectual.

Civil service
Mahfouz left academia and pursued a career in the Ministry of Religious affairs. However, he was soon moved to a role in the Ministry of Culture as the official responsible for the film industry, due to his apparent atheism.

A longtime civil servant, Mahfouz served in the Ministry of Mortmain Endowments, then as Director of Censorship in the Bureau of Art, Director of the Foundation for the Support of the Cinema, and finally as a consultant to the Ministry of Culture.
Mahfouz left his post as the Director of Censorship and was appointed Director of the Foundation for the Support of the Cinema. He was a contributing editor for the leading newspaper Al-Ahram and in 1969 he became a consultant to the Ministry of Culture, retiring in 1972.

Mahfouz remained a bachelor until the age of 43. The reason for his late marriage was that he laboured under his conviction that with its numerous restrictions and limitations, marriage would hamper his literary future. In 1954, he married an Egyptian woman, with whom he had two daughters.

He published 34 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 films. He was a board member of the publisher Dar el-Ma'aref. Many of his novels were serialized in Al-Ahram, and his writings also appeared in his weekly column, "Point of View". Before the Nobel Prize only a few of his novels had appeared in the West.

Clash with fundamentalists
Mahfouz did not shrink from controversy outside of his work. As a consequence of his outspoken support for Sadat's Camp David peace treaty with Israel in 1978, his books were banned in many Arab countries until after he won the Nobel Prize.

Like many Egyptian writers and intellectuals, Mahfouz was on an Islamic fundamentalist "death list". He defended Salman Rushdie after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned Rushdie to death in 1989, but also criticized his Satanic Verses as "insulting" to Islam. Mahfouz believed in freedom of expression and although he did not personally agree with Rushdie's work, he did not believe that there should be a fatwa condemning him to death for it. He also condemned Khomeini for issuing the fatwa, for he did not believe that the Ayatollah was representing Islam.

In 1989, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie and his publishers to be killed, Mahfouz called Khomeini a terrorist. Shortly after Mahfouz joined 80 other intellectuals in declaring that "no blasphemy harms Islam and Muslims so much as the call for murdering a writer."

Attempted assassination
The appearance of The Satanic Verses brought back up the controversy surrounding Mahfouz's novel Children of Gebelawi. Death threats against Mahfouz followed, including one from the "blind sheikh," Egyptian theologian Omar Abdul-Rahman. Like Rushdie, Mahfouz was given police protection, but in 1994 Islamic extremists almost succeeded in assassinating the 82-year-old novelist by stabbing him in the neck outside his Cairo home. He survived, permanently affected by damage to nerves in his right hand. After the incident Mahfouz was unable to write for more than a few minutes a day and consequently produced fewer and fewer works. Subsequently, he lived under constant bodyguard protection. Finally, in the beginning of 2006, the novel was published in Egypt with a preface written by Ahmad Kamal Aboul-Magd.

After the threats, Mahfouz stayed in Cairo with his lawyer Nabil Mounier Habib . Mahfouz and Habib would spend most of their time in Habib's office; Mahfouz used Habib's library as a reference for most of his books. Mahfouz stayed with Habib until his death.

Death and funeral
Prior to his death, Mahfouz was the oldest living Nobel Literature laureate and the third oldest of all time, trailing only Bertrand Russell and Halldor Laxness. At the time of his death, he was the only Arabic-language writer to have won the Nobel Prize.
In July 2006, Mahfouz sustained an injury to his head as a result of a fall. He remained ill until his death on August 30, 2006 in a Cairo hospital.

In his old age Mahfouz became nearly blind, and though he continued to write, he had difficulties in holding a pen or a pencil. He also had to abandon his daily habit of meeting his friends at coffeehouses. Prior to his death, he suffered from a bleeding ulcer, kidney problems, and cardiac failure.

Mahfouz was accorded a state funeral with full military honors on August 31, 2006. His funeral took place in the el-Rashdan Mosque in Nasr City in Cairo.

Mahfouz dreamed that all of the social classes of Egypt, including the very poor, would join his funeral procession. However, attendance was tightly restricted by the Egyptian government amid protest by mourners.

message 3: by Kokeshi (new)

Kokeshi | 48 comments The Palace Walk" by Naguib Mahfouz is, by far, the best work of fiction that I have read this year and is now one of my top ten favourite novels.

"The Palace Walk" is the first volume of “The Cairo Trilogy.” It centers on the life of an Egyptian Muslim family living through the period between the end of World War I and the beginning of the 1919 revolution against British rule, a time of dramatic change in Egypt.

The novel is an engrossing story of epic proportions. Each character is examined individually and as a cog in the machine of this interesting Muslim family. There is the patriarchal father that rules with an iron fist, the mother who has not left her house in over two decades, and male and female children all with their own dreams who have to conform to a ruthless father and a hypocritical society.

Just as you are really getting to know the Ahmad family the novel turns towards the 1919 revolution against British rule and its repercussions. Here the structure of the family starts to crack and ultimately they will never be the same.

This is powerfully moving novel. I waited a month to review this book to see if its influence had worn off of me, but it has not. I continue to think about its characters and wonder what will happen to them. I will read the next two volumes of this trilogy and I look forward to every word.

If you read “The Palace Walk” in English then you are reading a translation, but even the translation is a work of art. I cannot even begin to contemplate what it must be like to read it in Arabic. The prose is both beautiful and powerful – a pleasure to contemplate. By the way, we have Jackie Kennedy Onassis to thank for getting this work published. She read Mahfouz in French and encouraged the publishers she worked for at Double Day to translate “The Cairo Trilogy” into English.

''He could not imagine that the world of the emotions had infiltrated the atmosphere of his home, which he vigilantly strove to keep one of stern purity and immaculate innocence." (less)

message 4: by Myrthe (new)

Myrthe Chorfi Naguib Mahfouz is one of my favorite authors. I'm reading The Cairo trilogy total volume 1300 pages, now at page 700 something. One of definitely if not my favorite book(s) al time.

message 5: by Myrthe (new)

Myrthe Chorfi Mahfouz's other books are also good and I really recommend them, but the Cairo trilogy is his magnus opus (his major work), which he was granted the Nobel prize of literature for in 1988.

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