Cairo Modern

An Egyptian Novel

Naguib Mahfouz
Translated byWilliam M. Hutchins

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 st

English edition
248 pp.
15X23cm
ISBN 9789774166242
For sale only in the Middle East

$18.95

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 heartfelt indictments not so much of Egyptian society between the world wars as of human nature and our paltry attempts to establish just societies.

Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz (1911–2006) was born in the crowded Cairo district of Gamaliya. He wrote nearly 40 novel-length works, plus hundreds of short stories and numerous screenplays. He was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1988. Kay Heikkinen holds a PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures from Harvard University, where she first became interested in Arabic history, language, and literature. She has taught medieval history and literature as well as Islamic civilization, and currently teaches Arabic at the University of Chicago.  
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