Naguib Mahfouz's Egypt: Existential Themes in His Writings

Naguib Mahfouz's Egypt: Existential Themes in His Writings

Naguib Mahfouz's Egypt: Existential Themes in His Writings

Naguib Mahfouz's Egypt: Existential Themes in His Writings

Synopsis

In 1988 Naguib Mahfouz became the first Arab writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. While Mahfouz is first and foremost a storyteller, he gives the reader an extra "baksheesh" by telling stories of persons from all walks of life. By doing so, Mahfouz accurately depicts the existential problems facing contemporary Egyptians. Gordon questioned Mahfouz directly in a series of personal interviews conducted over the past ten years, probing the existential themes in the characters, plots, and issues raised in Mahfouz's stories. The result is an intimate and highly personal look at life in Egypt.

Excerpt

Good writing is a kind of skating which carries off the performer where he would not go.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The storyteller

The Nile flows slowly by Cafe Cleopatra where, accompanied by three of my students, I first met Naguib Mahfouz in the spring of 1980. That spring was a period of euphoria in Israeli-Egyptian relations, of belief in a lasting peace in the Middle East, something Mahfouz had dreamed of for many years. As we sipped turkish coffee and talked in the shade of towering eucalyptus trees, warmth and friendship emanated from Mahfouz. His smile was generous, his eyes often twinkled, and he literally loved to laugh. Ten months later I learned that Mahfouz may have been a bit apprehensive about meeting us Israelis; he had stationed two students who admired his writings a few tables from us. They sat there for the duration of our meeting, a young couple who looked at us inquisitively from time to time. This warmth and friendship, coupled with apprehension, by the major author of the Arab world hints as to the complex existential situation in which Mahfouz lives and writes.

In my more than fifteen meetings with Mahfouz over the next nine years I was repeatedly struck by his cheerfulness, and by his complex situation. in the Arab world he was famous. He had a weekly column in the major Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram. His office in the tall modern . . .

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