Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Egyptian everyman

I read Palace Walk a long time ago but have never forgotten it; his Nobel was richly deserved. His "Cairo Trilogy" -- Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street -- is a tremendous literary achievement.
In 1994, an attacker inspired by a militant cleric's ruling that a Mahfouz novel written decades before was blasphemous stabbed the then-82-year-old author as he left his Cairo home.

Mahfouz survived, but the attack damaged nerves leading to his right arm, seriously impairing his ability to write. A man who had once worked for hours at a time -- writing in longhand -- found it a struggle to ''form legible words running in more or less straight lines,'' he wrote in the aftermath.

...Mahfouz moved easily between genres. His works of social realism painted Egypt's 20th century upheavals: promising young men die fighting British colonial rule, revolutions inspire and then bitterly disappoint, women strain against religious and traditional restrictions, gracious old manners surrender to modern ways.

''It has to do with the plight of humanity as a whole,'' said Fatma Moussa, a renowned Egyptian critic and writer. ''He has presented it from the local angle, but it's not really local at all. It's kind of a microcosm of the whole world, a little image of the fate of man.''

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