Arabic Literature
English edition  
Apr  2008
248 pp.
Hardbound
15X23 cm
$19.95
LE100
ISBN 9789774161568
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Cairo Modern

Naguib Mahfouz
Translated by William M. Hutchins

A major early novel by the Egyptian Nobel laureate, published for the first time in English

The novelist’s camera pans from the dome of King Fuad University (now Cairo University) to students streaming out of the campus, focusing on four students in their twenties, each representing a different trend in Egypt in the 1930s. Finally the camera comes to rest on Mahgub Abd al-Da’im. A scamp, he fancies himself a nihilist, a hedonist, an egotist, but his personal vulnerability is soon revealed by a family crisis back home in al-Qanatir, a dusty, provincial town on the Nile that is also a popular destination for Cairene day-trippers. Mahgub, like many characters in works by Naguib Mahfouz, has a hard time finding the correct setting on his ambition gauge. His emotional life also fluctuates between the extremes of a street girl, who makes her living gathering cigarette butts, and his wealthy cousin Tahiya. Since he thinks that virtue is merely a social construct, how far will our would-be nihilist go in trying to fulfill his unbridled ambitions? What if he discovers that high society is more corrupt and cynical than he is? With a wink back at Goethe’s Faust and Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, Mahgub becomes a willing collaborator in his own corruption. Published in Arabic in the 1940s, this cautionary morality tale about self-defeating egoism and ill-digested foreign philosophies comes from the same period as one of the writer’s best known works, Midaq Alley. Both novels are comic and heart-felt indictments not so much of Egyptian society between the world wars as of human nature and our paltry attempts to establish just societies.
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Naguib Mahfouz (1911–2006) was born in the crowded Cairo district of Gamaliya. He graduated in philosophy from King Fuad University in 1934, and went on to write nearly forty novel-length works, plus hundreds of short stories and numerous screenplays. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. William M. Hutchins is the principal translator of Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, and has most recently translated Mohammed Khudayyir’s Basrayatha (AUC Press, 2007) and Fadhil al-Azzawi’s The Last of the Angels (AUC Press, 2007) and Cell Block Five (AUC Press, 2008).

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Reviews

"A fascinating example of human pain, degradation, and the tyranny of social relations." The Huffington Post

“Mahfouz writes like an ancient Orient Express still chugging along in perfect condition, old-fashioned in almost every way, with a big Dickensian heart that seems to forgive and understand just about everyone. Crafty and unhurried, Mahfouz steers the narrative with a compassionate, frequently ironic hand, so subtle you're halfway to your destination before you realize where he's taking you. Midway through the novel, this cagey old master reveals a well-prepared shocker, which launches the story toward disaster.” – Shelf Awareness: Daily Enlightenment for the Book Trade

“Politics and religion dance lightly upon the pages while Mahfouz focuses on the humanity of his characters and the inevitable consequences of a corrupt system. Cairo Modern rises above its theme by drawing the reader into a world where choosing the right path is impossible and forces each of us to consider carefully whether we would have acted differently in the same set of circumstances.” – Curledup.com

“The novel is a gem, the perfect introduction to Mahfouz’s work if you have never read any of his other novels.” – CounterPunch

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