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In this gripping and suspenseful novella from the Egyptian Nobel Prize-winner, three young friends survive interrogation by the secret police, only to find their lives poisoned by suspicion, fear, and betrayal.
At a Cairo café in the 1960s, a legendary former belly dancer lovingly presides over a boisterous family of regulars, including a group of idealistic university students. One day, amid reports of a wave of arrests, three of the students disappear: the excitable Hilmi, his friend Ismail, and Ismail's beautiful girlfriend Zaynab. When they return months later, they are apparently unharmed and yet subtly and profoundly changed. It is only years later, after their lives have been further shattered, that the narrator pieces together the young people's horrific stories and learns how the government used them against one another. In a riveting final chapter, their torturer himself enters the Café and sits among his former victims, claiming a right to join their society of the disillusioned. Now translated into English for the first time, Naguib Mahfouz's tale of the insidious effects of government-sanctioned torture and the suspension of rights and freedoms in a time of crisis is shockingly contemporary.
“A fierce yet subtle novel. . . . Every page smolders.”
—The New York Sun
“A storyteller of the first order in any idiom.”