Naguib Mahfouz was born in Cairo in 1911 and began writing when he was seventeen. A student of philosophy and an avid reader, his works range from reimaginings of ancient myths to subtle commentaries on contemporary Egyptian politics and culture. Over a career that lasted more than five decades, he wrote 33 novels, 13 short story anthologies, numerous plays, and 30 screenplays. Of his many works, most famous is The Cairo Trilogy, consisting of Palace Walk (1956), Palace of Desire (1957), and Sugar Street (1957), which focuses on a Cairo family through three generations, from 1917 until 1952. In 1988, he became the first writer in Arabic to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died in August 2006.
by Nadine Gordimer
'What matters in the historical novel is not the telling of great historical events, but the poet's awakening of people who figure in those events. What matters is that we should re-experience the social and human motives which led men to think, feel and act just as they did in historical realities.'*
Naguib Mahfouz adds another dimension to what matters. Reading back through his work written over seventy-six years and coming to this trilogy of earliest published novels brings the relevance of re-experience of Pharaonic times to our own. The historical novel is not a mummy brought to light; in Mahfouz's hands it is alive in ourselves, our twentieth and twentyfirst centuries, in the complex motivations with which we tackle the undreamt-of transformation of means and accompanying aleatory forces let loose upon us. Although these three fictions were written before the Second World War, before the atom bomb, there is a prescience--in the characters, not authorial statement--of what was to come. A prescience that the writer was going to explore in relation to the historical periods he himself would live through, in the forty novels which followed.
*Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell, Merlin Press, 1962.