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In the Time of Love

In the Time of Love

Naguib Mahfouz
Translated by Kay Heikkinen
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 152
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7g11
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  • Book Info
    In the Time of Love
    Book Description:

    Love—who can count its varieties, measure its force, uncover the masks it wears, or predict how it binds and divides? In this spare novel, master storyteller Naguib Mahfouz gives us some of his most memorable characters, widely familiar to Egyptians from the film version of the book: Sitt Ain, with her large house, her garden, her cats, and her familiar umbrella, strong and active, mother of the neighborhood; her son Izzat, so different from her, emotional and unsure of his way; and the friends of his childhood, Sayyida, Hamdoun, and Badriya, all their lives entangled and shaped over many years by the encounter of commitment, ambition, treachery, and above all love. This is a story in and of twentieth-century Egypt, which can be read on more than one level. The neighborhood and the motifs may be familiar, but they combine to tell a new and intriguing tale, with an unexpected outcome.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-310-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. 1
    (pp. 1-9)

    The narrator says:

    But who is the narrator? Shouldn’t we give him a word of introduction?

    He is not a specific person who can be identified historically, for he is neither man nor woman, without identity or name. Perhaps he is the essence of whispers or words spoken aloud, moved by the indomitable desire to immortalize certain memories, spurred by a passion for aphorisms and admonitions, fascinated by emotions of joy and sadness, by a secret tragic ache, by the sweetness of dreams we believe could be realized one day. In reality he is a heritage woven of angelic history,...

  3. 2
    (pp. 9-13)

    One day—as the narrator says—Sitt Ain was seated under the arbor of jasmine, tossing bits of bread dipped in broth to a group of cats numbering no fewer than five, and Ezzat was standing between the arbor and the fountain in his striped gallabiya and sandals, grabbing with his small hand at the rays of the setting sun receding from the trunk of the lemon tree. Summer was in the last days of its journey, and only a little time remained before the cannon shot signaling iftar. Ain was feeding the cats by hand, united with them in...

  4. 3
    (pp. 13-17)

    Uneasy thoughts circled in the familiar serenity. They weren’t serious, but they troubled someone accustomed to tranquility. What was the real reason she was disturbed by the child’s fooling around? The time had come for him to go to the kuttab, and there were men who were greedy for her money. She looked at the mirror in its ivory frame embellished by Quran verses and shook her head, remembering her promise the day his father died, that she would not allow a stranger to take the place of a father. Five years had passed and her resolution had not weakened....

  5. 4
    (pp. 17-22)

    The kuttab of Sheikh al-Azizi opened its doors as the winds of autumn crept from their damp cradle. Ain resolved to send her only son to the sheikh.

    “You will find honor and the light of God in the kuttab.”

    Honor because the sheikh was among the constant recipients of her generosity, and the light of God because it broke forth first and foremost from the Book.

    But Ezzat asked apprehensively, “Isn’t the garden better?” She stroked his head with her palm and said, “It is part of becoming a man.”

    Ezzat remembered the groups of boys and girls as...

  6. 5
    (pp. 22-28)

    His life in the kuttab was not easy, for he was often reprimanded, but he was never flogged. Sheikh al-Azizi knew that he could not go beyond certain bounds with him. Ezzat advanced over a bridge filled with stumbling blocks. Hamdoun’s abundant energy sometimes helped him, or at times kindled his enthusiasm. Their friendship had become real. Over time he met all the boys, but Hamdoun remained his one friend. Ain welcomed him, pleased by his neat appearance and precocious desire to study; she hoped Ezzat would find in him encouragement to work. She said that he was a smart...

  7. 6
    (pp. 28-35)

    High school was a new era.

    Windows opened to a current of new information, then warm air poured forth, opening the innermost chambers and ripening the deepest folds. A new person grew from the depths of Ezzat … and Hamdoun as well. The tip of his nose changed shape, his voice deepened, and he was agitated by obscure desires. Ain prayed for the soul of Amm Abdel Baqi, and said that Ezzat was just like him even though he hadn’t known him. She said that from now on breezes would blow laden with fragrances and anxieties. In that period, Hamdoun...

  8. 7
    (pp. 35-40)

    The love went on growing and swelling like a date palm. He relieved his cares with the theater, but immersed himself in detective novels in his free time. When Hamdoun appeared with his strong features beaming, he would feel an obscure foreboding, envying him his progress and dedication to his goal. Ezzat often retold the story of his love, and Hamdoun would sympathize with his distress with the warmth of a loving friend. He said to him once, “It seems to me that your mother doesn’t think much of love.”

    Ezzat said, “She doesn’t think much of the girl’s mother,...

  9. 8
    (pp. 40-44)

    Love was no longer the sole occupant of the place; now it was rivaled by a new fate: fear. Sometimes he became oblivious to love, staring at the new apparition. It was a stable apparition, neither wavering nor weakening with the passage of time. It was the one mistake that never tired of pursuing him and demanding a solution. Sayyida in herself was nothing, but because of the mistake she had become everything. Now she was hidden in a corner of existence, tiny and unseen, plunged in weakness, but her voice hummed like a cricket. Her father had died long...

  10. 9
    (pp. 44-47)

    The narrator says:

    Years passed, one after the other. His old love was submerged in a sheath of tranquillity and languor. His relationship with Sayyida was still composed of cold feelings and rough deeds. No kind word slipped out, and he did not hesitate to insult her for the slightest lapse, and sometimes for no reason. He would take Samir far from her to enjoy complete freedom in playing with him and kissing him. He was ill at ease in his life after the disappearance of Badriya and Hamdoun, and detective novels did not fill the void; he fell into...

  11. 10
    (pp. 47-51)

    No action followed Sayyida’s suggestion. He dreamed of the project and became more weary with life. He found nothing new in life except for one new habit, which was eating a great deal under the influence of the drugs to relieve his boredom. He lost his youthful slenderness and began to put on weight.

    In that period he forgot his old love, or nearly so, and became characterized by an enveloping apathy; even his devotions became practices without feeling or ardor. He found only Sayyida before him, and made her responsible for his deterioration. The young woman suddenly rebelled against...

  12. 11
    (pp. 51-56)

    A in appeared to him one morning with eyes red from weeping, alarming him greatly. He did not remember seeing her cry before. With a sinking heart, he asked her what was wrong, expecting the worst. She whispered, in a sad voice, “Baraka’s gone. … God preserve you!”

    He couldn’t help but smile, feeling he had been saved, and stammered, “Cats fill the house, may your life be preserved.”

    “But Baraka was the origin, her heart was filled with love and good sense. There was no escaping it, her time had come.”

    He had become accustomed to this spiritualism, accepting...

  13. 12
    (pp. 57-61)

    He did not really need to think (as the narrator says) for he was swept by a vital impulse, a strong and powerful outburst which made a new man of him, moving crazily, summoned by some deep call to action and rising against lassitude to the point that he didn’t recognize himself, considering the matter sacred play, a happy game by which he would realize himself in a splendid way. It did not escape his notice that the new project must be enveloped in secrecy. It was neither something about which he could come to an understanding openly with Ain,...

  14. 13
    (pp. 61-64)

    Winter and early spring brought about arrangements, preparations, and money spent, just as they brought about a close friendship among Ezzat, Hamdoun, and Badriya. The narrator considers that this was among the happiest times in the life of Ezzat Abdel Baqi. He spent a large portion of it in Hamdoun’s apartment, where contracts were written with the theater’s owner, the actors and the actresses, the technicians and the workers. He had renovated parts of the theater building, providing it with new seats and setting up a new entrance so that it became the gem of Rod al-Farag, in the words...

  15. 14
    (pp. 64-67)

    After they finished around midnight, Badriya and Hamdoun came to his room with happy faces, and he congratulated them on their success. Hamdoun said enthusiastically, “Success beyond all expectations.”

    Badriya stammered, “Now that God has saved us from the circus.”

    Ezzat stood, saying, “We’ll celebrate our success in Shubra Gardens!”

    Badriya, Hamdoun, and Yousif Radi gathered in the new apartment, as well as Farag Ya Musahhil, who served them. Kebabs, pistachios, and whiskey were brought while Farag Ya Musahhil devoted himself to preparing the water pipe. Ezzat tasted whiskey for the first time in his life, and he was invaded...

  16. 15
    (pp. 68-71)

    The season passed successfully. The Paradise troupe presented four plays written by Hamdoun. At the end of August new activity began, to prepare the Egyptian Club for the winter season. Ezzat became adept at his profession of manager; he longed to see Samir but he did not think of visiting the neighborhood at all. A discussion of the new season took place in Ezzat’s office, in which Hamdoun Agrama said, “I caution you against Yousif Radi’s play.”

    Ezzat answered, “I’ll find some way to convince him.”

    At that Badriya wondered, “Will we present our comic plays in the Egyptian Club?”...

  17. 16
    (pp. 72-74)

    She left him in a vortex, a vortex that allowed no part of him to remain in its natural place. The world was colors and sounds and thoughts and angels and devils colliding with each other, drunken confidence, readiness to help. He sat confused for a long time. An unknown joy passed over him. He had to find his way to an idea. The picture of Hamdoun came to his mind, Hamdoun dressed in prison clothes or on the gallows. He said aloud to himself that there must be a plan to rescue the situation. Badriya could not be abandoned...

  18. 17
    (pp. 74-77)

    At the height of the vortex the next night—closing night—he saw his aunt Amouna, her daughter Ihsan, and an unknown young man entering the theater. Their eyes met, so he went to greet her. It was a lukewarm encounter, but he met his cousin’s new husband, who had invited his mother-in-law to join them in an outing as part of their honeymoon celebrations. He realized that the truth of his new profession would become known in the house and the neighborhood, and that tongues would wag with this fine story. From time to time he had been toying...

  19. 18
    (pp. 77-80)

    Outwardly, preparations for the new season continued, but the killing of Yousif Radi had been a violent shock for everyone. All the members of the troupe knew him personally. The preparer of contracts and anticipated playwright. He was killed yesterday and the investigation examined every angle. They were all questioned and nothing was discovered. Hamdoun went with them. Ezzat did not disclose any of his anxieties. He returned in the company of Hamdoun and Badriya. Hamdoun kept silent the whole time.

    Ezzat said, lamenting, “What a shame!”

    Hamdoun continued, “Yes, he was young.”

    As women usually do, Badriya sobbed. The...

  20. 19
    (pp. 80-82)

    It was now known that Hamdoun Agrama, the author and actor, was the killer of the lawyer Yousif Radi, and that the motive for the crime was that the killer had noticed the victim’s infatuation with his wife. News also spread of the anonymous letter which accused Hamdoun of killing Yousif. Badriya was interrogated again and she confirmed what Hamdoun said and did not make the slightest reference to the group Tomorrow’s Children. In her terrifying solitude Badriya found no companion or supporter other than Ezzat. Her sudden ugliness disappeared, but her features were weighted with a deep, abiding grief;...

  21. 20
    (pp. 83-86)

    He spent a lot of money preparing for the new season. The Elysée Theater was a good building in a good place. It had been shut for years because of differences among the heirs, until Khawaga Benjamin obtained it by a judicial decree, and Ezzat was the first to rent it in its new life. He felt as if he had become a theater owner in the true sense of the word, and that he would be working proudly in the domain of the Ramsis, Azbakiya, and Bintannia. True, he had not been able to bring any actor or actress...

  22. 21
    (pp. 86-89)

    Badriya left. Work stopped. The lights went out. No longer was any voice heard, ringing with good or ill. The fantasy world collapsed, its magic evaporated. Sadness descended on every heart. He would not see her merry in her slave girl’s costume. He would not be gladdened by a smile from her lips. Nor by the sweetness of her voice. A stony look of refusal was the last thing she had given him. An accusing farewell, stingy in tears. If she appeared it was the fantasy of one bereft. His breast had been sentenced to the torment of sterile longing....

  23. 22
    (pp. 89-94)

    He waited in his elegant apartment on Friday morning. He did not imagine that he would fail to come. Even if the worst should happen, he would only be reaping what he had sown.

    My dear Samir,

    Do not be surprised. The writer of this letter is your father. You will ask, after all this time. But you do not know the depths of my life enough to have the right to judge me. Your father invites you to his home (3 Dupré Street, apartment 14) next Friday morning (March 14). It is not right for us to have been...

  24. 23
    (pp. 94-96)

    With the entry of Samir into his life its structure was somewhat altered. In any case, it was not as it had been. The relationship between them grew stronger during the summer, turning into intimacy on a high level. He attained pure happiness on Fridays, and he was showered with sweet memories the rest of the week. He learned from him that he loved a student in the college of science named Ragaa and that he was going to announce his engagement immediately after finishing his studies. Ezzat was happy at the news. He welcomed the successful love and considered...

  25. 24
    (pp. 97-101)

    Samir graduated as an engineer. He announced his engagement to Ragaa. He was selected as part of a group sent to study in England for two years. Ezzat invited his son and his fiancée to celebrate in his apartment. The atmosphere of the courtship penetrated to his depths—suddenly he longed for a stable married life. He found a new idea in his sudden longing, sly, but strong and captivating. But what bride would be suited to a man of his years? He loathed the women who visited his apartment from time to time. He wanted to lift the white...

  26. 25
    (pp. 101-108)

    The narrator says:

    Ezzat Abdel Baqi did not expect anything new, unless it would be the curtain falling and the lights going out. But Farag Ya Musahhil visited him in his apartment one autumn morning and said to him, “I’ve heard strange news that might interest you more than anyone else.”

    Ezzat said, mockingly, “The club and everything in it is yours if you can arouse my interest!”

    “It’s news worth telling in any case.”

    “What is it?”

    “Badriya al-Manawishi, the star of your old theater.”

    Out of what silence did that name emerge! The star of your old theater....

  27. 26
    (pp. 108-113)

    He fled, wiping the sweat from his face with his handkerchief. What stupidity had driven him to the Nile Flower? Why hadn’t he acted according to the wisdom that leads us to hide bodies in tombs? He had really not needed that painful experience, which had pierced him to the bone. Hadn’t the experience of Samir, lost and vagabond, been enough for him? Alone in the manager’s office he began to think about his life.

    It was not the first time, but he was stirred to the point of inspiration. At first he had been depressed by leisure, but he...

  28. 27
    (pp. 114-119)

    The narrator says:

    Ezzat became another person. After Hamdoun left, the first Ezzat and the other one coexisted, living side by side in one place. They were completely identical to each other except that the First stared at the Other in amazement and perplexity, with a sensation of fear, and believing that the Other was also afraid of him.

    He wondered how the current would carry them, when they were in one boat? For a period of a quarter century he had been accustomed to having his own opinion and this other acted like a partner, with enough confidence to...

  29. 28
    (pp. 119-119)

    The narrator says:

    On Lailat al-qadr, Sitt Ain was infused with unexpected energy. She refused to touch her supper of yogurt and asked Sayyida to sit her up. Sayyida folded a fresh pillow behind her back and placed her in a half-sitting position.

    Ain said, smiling, “The air will be sweet and the earth will shine with the Lord’s light, so care for the little birds with mercy.” She continued smiling as she said, “I’m going to sing a song I loved when I was little.”

    She began to sing, in a weak, affecting voice, “Sweet dove, where will I...

  30. Glossary
    (pp. 120-121)
  31. Afterword
    (pp. 122-122)

    The events of Naguib Mahfouz’sIn the Time of Lovetake place in the early to middle part of the twentieth century in Cairo. During that period there was a thriving commercial theatrical movement in Cairo, both in the theaters downtown and in Rod al-Farag; the latter a district along the banks of the Nile north of the central city which was known then for its nightlife, especially during the summer. It is there that the careers of Egyptian comedians such as Naguib al-Rihani and Ali al-Kassar were launched, as well as that of the famous actress Fatima Roushdi, who...