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The Mahfouz Dialogs

The Mahfouz Dialogs

Gamal al-Ghitani
Translated by Humphrey Davies
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Mahfouz Dialogs
    Book Description:

    The Mahfouz Dialogs records the memories, views, and jokes of Naguib Mahfouz on subjects ranging from politics to the relationship between his novels and his life, as delivered to intimate friends at a series of informal meetings stretching out over almost half a century. Mahfouz was a pivotal figure not only in world literature (through being awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1988 he became the first writer in Arabic to win a mass audience), but also in his own society, where he vastly enhanced the image of the writer in the eyes of the public and encapsulated—as the victim of a savage attack on his life by an Islamist in 1994—the struggle between pluralism, tolerance, and secularism on the one hand and extremist Islam. Moderated by Gamal al-Ghitani, a writer of a younger generation who shared a common background with Mahfouz (al-Ghitani also grew up in medieval Cairo) and felt a vast personal empathy for the writer despite their sometimes different views, these exchanges throw new light on Mahfouz’s life, the creation of his novels, and literary Egypt in the second half of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-232-4
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xviii)

    The year 1994 may be regarded as a turning point in the life of Naguib Mahfouz and in my relationship with him, not in terms of the content of that relationship, but in its form and the circumstances surrounding it. In 1988, when he won the Nobel prize, does not compare in my opinion. When that prize was announced, on a Thursday, I went to his house. A large number of Egyptian, Arab, and foreign journalists had gathered in front of his home, which was on the first floor of a building that overlooks the Little Nile, the narrow branch...

  4. Part I

    • Chapter 1 Dialogs
      (pp. 3-32)

      The café has three floors. The first looks directly over the beautiful square dominated by the elegant old wooden opera building, which provided a focus for the place and contributed to the special atmosphere of the city’s downtown area, with its European layout and architecture. The first floor was a café distinguished by its elegance, where both men and women sat, and where waterpipes with authentic ‘Persian’ tobacco were available to my amazement I would observe women who had passed middle age smoking waterpipes at a time when it was unusual to see women smoking in public.

      One ascended to...

    • Chapter 2 Dialog in Celebration of His Ninety-Third Year (9 December 2003)
      (pp. 33-54)

      It is only in Naguib Mahfouz that I have experienced wisdom personified. In recent years (may God prolong his life), he has appeared before us at his appointed time (six o’clock exactly) followed by his personal bodyguard—he who had spent his entire life wandering freely through the streets, marketplaces, and cafés. Things had changed, however, after 1994 and the hideous attempt on his life. But that incident revealed to us Naguib Mahfouz’s true nature. Despite the closeness of our companionship with him, and though we had been aware of its presence and significance, it was only now that we...

  5. Part II

    • Chapter 3 Mahfouzian Memories
      (pp. 57-62)

      How fast the passing of the days!

      More than a quarter of a century has elapsed since that hot Cairene summer. These were the months during which Naguib Mahfouz abandoned his writing because of an allergy, which began in June and continued until the end of August—or this at least is what we know as the publicly stated reason; perhaps there were other reasons too, such as a deliberate abandonment of writing in favor of meditation and a closer scrutiny of what was and would be. That particular summer, however, the summer of 1978, was unusual, especially for him....

    • Chapter 4 Childhood
      (pp. 63-74)

      When I travel in memory to the most distant beginnings of my life, to my earliest childhood, I remember our house in al-Gamaliya as almost empty. My father had had six children before me, who had followed one another in quick succession, four girls and two boys, after which my mother had no more children for nine years. Then I came along. When I reached the age of five, the difference between me and my next oldest brother was fifteen years. All the girls but one, of whose life in that house I remember nothing, had gotten married. My two...

    • Chapter 5 Literary Formation and the Struggle between Literature and Philosophy
      (pp. 75-86)

      One day I saw one of my friends, Yahya Saqr, reading a book—a detective novel calledSon of Johnson (Ibn Junsun). Yahya is a relative of ‘Abd al-Karim Saqr, the famous soccer player. I asked him, “What’s that?”

      He said it was a very enjoyable book.

      I borrowed it from him, read it, and enjoyed it immensely. This was when we were in Third Elementary. I looked for other novels in the same series. Then I asked myself: If this is the son of Johnson, what about Johnson himself? I looked and found another series of novels in which...

    • Chapter 6 Out of the Shadows, Into the Limelight
      (pp. 87-92)

      A large number of my stories I published in the early thirties. Most of them aren’t in any collection. Likewise, I’ve completely forgotten the magazines to which I sent my stories. In those days, the number of serious magazines in Egypt was greater than that of entertainment magazines; in fact the latter were few. There were many serious magazines that presented the classics of world literature and the modern classics, and there was no problem in keeping abreast of new developments in culture. General magazines, on the other hand, such asal-Musawwar, Akhir sa‘a, andal-Lata’if al-musawwara, were limited in...

    • Chapter 7 The Major Novels: The Cairo Trilogy
      (pp. 93-98)

      To tell you the truth, the idea ofThe Cairo Trilogycome to me in fits and starts. I can pin down the first flashes: I was reading a book about the ABCs of the novel (in fact, I read numerous books about the art of the novel). The first kind of novel this book reviewed was what they call ‘the generational novel,’ in other words, the novel of different time periods that reviews many successive generations. I liked the form. As I read about this particular type of novel, I tried to remember if I had read a literary...

    • Chapter 8 Great Literature Springs from the Self
      (pp. 99-102)

      As you get older, you both feel and comprehend that the place where your life started will also be your final refuge.

      As though recapitulating the cycle of life, you encounter a new world that seems, at first blush, not to be your world. It is not enough to understand any given world for it to become your own private world. Feeling truly at home in that world demands something deeper than that. We are heading toward a new world, but that world is assuredly not one in which I shall feel completely at home. I am at the end...

    • Chapter 9 Politics and the Revolution: ʺI am not opposed to the July Revolutionʺ.
      (pp. 103-120)

      Politics entered my life in childhood, when I used to see the demonstrations in Bayt al-Qadi Square. At home, my father and mother were sympathetic to the Wafd, and when Sa‘d Zaghlul was mentioned it was respectfully and devoutly. When I started to read the newspapers, I would run my eye over the page until I came across the name of the Leader and would linger there. However, the ones who sowed the seed of patriotism in our souls and taught us its principles were our teachers, especially the beturbaned professors of Arabic. During class, they’d stop delivering the lesson...

    • Chapter 10 The Cinema: Flourishing in the Years of Literary Despair
      (pp. 121-128)

      The cinema came into my life from the outside. I knew nothing about it. True, I used to like to watch movies, but how was the movie made? I had no idea. All I knew was that this movie was by Rudolph Valentino, that by Mary Pickford, and so on. I didn’t know that there was a screenplay writer or anyone else. In 1947 my friend Fu’ad Nuwayra told me that Salah Abu Sayf, the director, wanted to meet me. By that time I had had a number of novels published, of which the latest wasMidaq Alley. I went...

    • Chapter 11 The First, and Greatest, Love
      (pp. 129-134)

      My first love died out long ago. I can’t keep up with her news now because she is the daughter of a family that ceased to exist many years ago. Their palace has been turned into an apartment block. It was on a street in al-‘Abbasiya called Hasan ‘Id that runs from al-‘Abbasiya Street to Queen Nazli Street. On the site of the palace there are now two modern apartment blocks. I don’t know what became of her or where she is now—in Egypt, outside of Egypt. I’ve even lost track of her brothers. There are strange things. Sometimes...

    • Chapter 12 Marriage and Family
      (pp. 135-138)

      The truth is that the woman is one and the same in my life and in my writings. Women have played a major role in my life, perhaps even greater than that played by politics. First there was my mother’s impact on my education and the type of culture that she bestowed on me, even though she was not well educated. Then came the experience of my first love that dominated my life to such a degree, and later on other experiences of love—experiences one might call ‘love on the run,’ but which had their own large impact on...

    • Chapter 13 Well-Loved Places: Cairo and Alexandria
      (pp. 139-162)

      In the seventies—in 1978 to be precise—I accompanied Mahfouz on a trip during which we explored together the places he loved best in historic Cairo. It was one of the few occasions on which he undertook an extensive tour of this sort at such an advanced age. Following the 1994 attack he never again set foot in al-Gamaliya and the haunts of his childhood.

      I never beheld a person so tied to the place where he was first raised as Naguib Mahfouz. He lived the first twelve years of his life in al-Gamaliya. He then moved to al-‘Abbasiya,...

    • Chapter 14 Old Cairo: Reality and Invention in the World of Mahfouz
      (pp. 163-174)

      The great novelist of Arabic, Naguib Mahfouz, said, “My love for and attachment to the old parts of Cairo is unequalled. Sometimes one may complain of a certain aridity of the soul—you know, those moments every author goes through—but when I walk in that area, images flood my mind’s eye; most of my novels came to me as living ideas while I was sitting in this area. It seems to me that there has to be some link to a specific place, or a specific thing, that is the starting point for one’s feelings and sensations. For me,...

  6. Part III

    • Chapter 15 Scattered Gatherings
      (pp. 177-186)

      What beautiful creation is this?

      What refined literature?

      What quintessence, what nectar? What pure, thrilling, refreshing honeycomb conducive to every intimation of beauty?

      Admiration, bedazzlement, and a deep attention to the lessons Naguib Mahfouz offers us with a manifest modesty concealing a rare mastery.

      Questions follow one another in quick succession, accompanied by the diverse impressions aroused by this work of literary nonfiction with which Mahfouz has surprised his readers and admirers. For the first time in many years, a published work of literature has become the center of people’s conversations, comments, and impressions, reviving memories of those fertile days...

  7. Glossary of Names
    (pp. 187-192)