Naguib Mahfouz

I have recently discovered this man, a real lyricist of a storyteller, who invokes magic into everyday lives of everyday cobblers, fishermen and the like. Each chapter focused an individual in a group of friends who meet in a local cafe to talk. A pair of genies begin to wield their influence over an individual at a time. There was a beautiful simplicity to the stories, normal people driven different ways by the simple introduction of greed, vanity or pride. He gently questions your own life, indicating paths of fundamental truths. The tales actually excite and warm you.

So I emailed my funny friend Moneim in Cairo, a guy I met when I worked there in 2003. He had shown me round the Old Islamic Town and his architect’s eye was revelatory, pointing out the artistic differences and showing me the parts most don’t see. I emailed him and asked about the opinion of Mahfouz in Egypt and he is viewed as the Dickens of the Middle East, writing stories about ordinary people striving to improve their lives all with a little benign help. But to me, he seems closer to Zola or Garcia Marquez. Moneim also told me that the books are written about the lanes and suburbs Mahfouz grew up and died in.

He died earlier this year at the impressive age of 95, still drinking tea in the same cafe amongst the friends who’d lived in his stories and his life, for the past century. I’ll look for his Cairo Trilogy.

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