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the Complete Review

A Literary Saloon and Site of Review

Naguib Mahfouz
(نجيب محفوظ‎)
at the
complete review:

biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Name: Naguib MAHFOUZ
Nationality: Egyptian
Born: 11 December 1911
Died: 30 August 2006
Awards: Nobel Prize in Literature, 1988

  • Worked as a civil servant until 1972

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Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

  • Khufu's Wisdom - Novel, 1939 (عبث الأقدار, Raymond Stock, 2003)
  • Rhadopis of Nubia - Novel, 1943 (رادوبيس, trans. Anthony Calderbank, 2003)
  • Thebes at War - Novel, 1944 (كفاح طيبة, Humphrey Davies, 2003)
  • Voices from the Other World - Stories, (1936-45) (trans. Raymond Stock, 2003)
  • Cairo Modern - Novel, 1945 (القاهرة الجديدة, trans. William M. Hutchins, 2008)
  • Khan al-Khalili - Novel, 1946 (خان الخليلي, tr. Roger Allen, 2008)
  • Midaq Alley - Novel, 1947 (زقاق المدق, trans. Trevor Le Gassick, 1966)
  • The Mirage - Novel, 1948 (السراب, trans. Nancy Roberts, 2009)
  • The Beginning and the End - Novel, 1949 (بداية ونهاية, edited by Mason Rossiter Smith, trans. Ramses Awad, 1985)
  • Palace Walk - Novel, 1956 (بين القصرين, trans. William M. Hutchins and Olive E. Kenny, 1989; part 1 of The Cairo Trilogy)
  • Palace of Desire - Novel, 1957 (قصر الشوق, trans. William Maynard Hutchins, Lorne M. Kenny, and Olive E. Kenny, 1991; part 2 of The Cairo Trilogy)
  • Sugar Street - Novel, 1957 (السكرية, trans. William Maynard Hutchins and Angele Botros Samaan, 1992; part 3 of The Cairo Trilogy)
  • Children of Gebelawi - Novel, 1959 (أولاد حارتنا, trans. Philip Stewart, 1981, rev. 1997; as Children of the Alley, trans. Peter Theroux, 1996)
  • The Thief and the Dogs - Novel, 1961 (اللص والكلاب, revised by John Rodenbeck, trans. Trevor Le Gassick and M.M. Badawi, 1984)
  • Autumn Quail - Novel, 1962 (السمان والخريف, revised by John Rodenbeck, trans. Roger Allen, 1985)
  • God's World - Stories, 1962 (دنيا الله, trans. Akef Abadir and Roger Allen, 1973)
  • The Search - Novel, 1964 (الطريق, edited by Magdi Wahba, trans. Mohamed Islam, 1987)
  • The Beggar - Novel, 1965 (الشحاذ, trans. Kristin Walker Henry and Kariman Khales Naili al-Warraki, 1986)
  • Adrift on the Nile - Novel, 1966 (ثرثرة فوق النيل, trans. Frances Liardet, 1993)
  • Miramar - Novel, 1967 (ميرامار, ed. and revised by Maged el Kommos and John Rodenbeck, trans. Fatma Moussa Mahmoud, 1978)
  • Mirrors - Novel, 1972 (المرايا, trans. Roger Allen, 1977)
  • Love in the Rain - Novel, 1973 (الحب تحت المطر, trans. Nancy Roberts, 2011)
  • Karnak Café - Novel, 1974 (الكرنك, trans.Roger Allen, 2007)
  • Fountain and Tomb - Stories, 1975 (حكايات حارتنا, trans. Soad Sobhy, Essam Fattouh, and James Kenneson, 1988)
  • Heart of the Night - Novel, 1975 (قلب الليل, trans. Aida Bamia, 2011)
  • Respected Sir - Novel, 1975 (حضرة المحترم, trans. Rasheed El-Enany, 1987)
  • The Harafish - Novel, 1977 (الحرافيش, trans. Catherine Cobham, 1994)
  • In the Time of Love - Novel, 1980 (عصر الحب, tr. Kay Heikkinen, 2010)
  • Arabian Nights and Days - Novel, 1981 (ليالي ألف ليلة, trans. Denys Johnson-Davies, 1995)
  • Wedding Song - Novel, 1981 (أفراح القبة, ed. and revised by Mursi Saad El Din and John Rodenbeck, trans. Olive E. Kenny, 1984)
  • The Final Hour - Novel, 1982 (الباقي من الزمن ساعة, trans.Roger Allen, 2010)
  • Before the Throne - Novel, 1983, (أمام العرش, trans. Raymond Stock, 2008)
  • The Journey of Ibn Fattouma - Novel, 1983 (السكرية, trans. Denys Johnson-Davies, 1992)
  • Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth - Novel, 1985 (العائش فى الحقيقة, trans. Tagreid Abu-Hassabo, 2000)
  • The Day the Leader Was Killed - Novel, 1985 (يوم مقتل الزعيم, trans. Malak Hashem, 1989)
  • Morning and Evening Talk - Novel, 1987 (حديث الصباح والمساء, trans. Christina Phillips, 2007)
  • The Coffeehouse - Novel, 1988 (قشتمر, trans. Raymond Stock, 2010)
  • Naguib Mahfouz: One-Act Plays - Plays (trans. Nehad Selaiha, 1989)
  • The Time and the Place - Stories (Selected and trans. by Denys Johnson-Davies, 1991)
  • Echoes of an Autobiography - Autobiographical, 1994 (أصداء السيرة الذاتي, trans. Denys Johnson-Davies, 1997)
  • Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber - Columns, 2001
  • The Dreams - Dreams, 2003 (first part of أحلام فترة النقاهة, trans. Raymond Stock, 2004)
  • The Seventh Heaven - Stories (trans. Raymond Stock, 2005)
  • Dreams of Departure - Dreams, 2006 (second part of أحلام فترة النقاهة, trans. Raymond Stock, 2007)
  • Life's Wisdom - Various (edited by Aleya Serour, 2006)
  • The Essential Naguib Mahfouz - Various (edited by Denys Johnson-Davies, 2011)

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.
Dates given are of first publication.

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What others have to
say about
Naguib Mahfouz:

  • "Naguib Mahfouz, the leading Egyptian and Arab novelist today, has produced the most professional novels of all about Cairo, its people and life. He portrays the changes that have occurred in the lives of the petit bourgeois Cairenes, highlighting the difference between one generation and another as these are influenced by new forces, ideas and events. With the publication of his famous trilogy in 1956-57 he established the Egyptian novel as a highly artistic literary form." - P.J.Vatikiotis, Times Literary Supplement (30/4/1976)

  • "Few people will deny that Naguib Mahfouz is the leading novelist in the Arab world, or that he is the most significant figure to have arisen this century in the history of the Arabic novel. Yet, paradoxically, of all writers he is perhaps the most peculiarly Egyptian in sensibility, outlook and background -- and that despite the underlying universality of the themes in many of his works. Other Arab novelists who produce works of literary merit appear from time to time, but few write more than one or two truly interesting novels, and certainly no one has approached in output, originality and seriousness Mahfouz's achievement. " - M.M.Badawi, Times Literary Supplement (25/9/1981)

  • "Nagib Machfus, der ägyptische Nobelpreisträger, ist ein moralisierender, ein konservativer Schriftsteller. Ein Ikonoklast war er nicht, dafür ein Neuerer in Sprache und Stil: Er wandelte das von klassischen Vorbildern dominierte Hocharabisch in ein natürlich klingendes Idiom um, in dem fortan auch die soziale Realität geschildert werden konnte. Während in den vierziger Jahren die arabische Literatur noch im Bann von Neoklassizismus und Romantik stand, schrieb Machfus im naturalistischen, gern mit Zola verglichenen Stil breit angelegte Romane über die Umbrüche im kleinbürgerlichen Kairo. Fällt aber, wie meist selbst im Zuge der besten Übersetzung unvermeidlich, der einst innovative sprachliche Aspekt fort, so bleibt von Machfus' realistischen Romanen häufig nicht mehr als eine wenig originelle Geschichte." - Stefan Weidner, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (17/10/2000)

  • "Nagib Machfus ist ein taktisch denkender Schriftsteller. Er hat genügend Mitleid mit seinen Figuren, um mit Empathie von ihnen zu erzählen, aber er macht sich nie mit ihnen gemein. " - Stefan Weidner, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (27/10/2001)

  • "Mahfouz is an unredemptive but highly judgemental and precise recorder of the passage of time. Thus Mahfouz is anything but a humble storyteller who haunts Cairo's cafés and essentially works away quietly in his obscure corner. The stubbornness and pride with which he has held to the rigour of his work for a half-century, with its refusal to concede to ordinary weakness, is at the very core of what he does as a writer. What mostly enables him to hold his astonishingly sustained view of the way eternity and time are so closely intertwined is his country, Egypt itself." - Edward Said, Al-Ahram Weekly (19/12/2001)

  • "It is both disappointing, and telling, that given the significant corpus of literature Mahfouz has authored, the corpus of literary criticism concerned with those writings, and the general consensus on Mahfouz's contribution to modern Arabic literature, he has reached the age of 90 without a comprehensive, scholarly biography to his name. Most of the information we have on his life and thought is what can be read between the lines of his novels, or else in the pages of the minor works Mahfouz has produced covering aspects of his life" - Amina Elbendary, Al-Ahram Weekly (19/12/2001)

  • "Modern Arabic literature achieved international recognition when Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel prize in 1988 (.....) Mahfouz also rendered Arabic literature a great service by developing, over the years, a form of language in which many of the archaisms and cliches that had become fashionable were discarded, a language that could serve as an adequate instrument for the writing of fiction in these times." - Denys Johnson-Davies, The Guardian (31/8/2006)

  • "His narrative world is peopled with characters from all walks of Egyptian life, from beggars to aristocrats, with a special place reserved for the intellectuals with whom Mahfouz identifies. On the literary plane, his career spans the whole process of development of the Arabic novel from the historical to the modernistic and lyrical. He earned the Arabic novel respect and popularity and lived to see it flourish in the work of numerous writers throughout the Arab world." - Sabry Hafez, The Independent (31/8/2006)

  • "Naguib Mahfouz was a writer from the age when people with a pen could be heroes. Icons of the national spirit. (...) Mahfouz's lasting mark on the world stage will surely be a measure of how deeply he believed in the power of fiction -- in the ability of myth and story to be a guidepost to our lives." - Neely Tucker, The Washington Post (31/8/2006)

  • "What is beyond doubt is that, in the development of that literary genre known as the novel in Arabic, the name of Naguib Mahfouz is already acknowledged and sanctioned as The central figure, the founding father of the mature form of the genre." - Roger Allen, Al-Ahram Weekly (6/9/2006)

  • "Seine plastische Erzählkunst, die sich in anschaulichen Schilderungen ebenso wie in düsteren poetischen Visionen artikuliert, vermittelt seine eigentlichen Anliegen: die Frage nach Gut und Böse, vor allem aber seine soziale Vision. " - Jacques Naoum, Die Zeit (21/10/2006)

  • "Mahfouz's masterpieces are nostalgic accounts of middle- and lower-class life in Cairo. His writing engages with politics and current events and makes a wonderful chronicle of Egyptian life during the greater part of the 20th century. In the dusty backstreets of the city that Egyptians call the Mother of the World, his characters muddle through the years, suffering the trials of war, the tribulations of a brutal colonial occupation and the bitter disappointment of a long-awaited revolution that leads only to a cruel dictatorship. Although he depicts a society only a couple of generations ago, the intricate tales of family relationships seem so dated and Dickensian to today's reader that it is as if they occurred in a bygone age." - Hugh Miles, New Statesman (24/4/2008)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

  • Incredible output, in quantity, quality, and variety
  • Amazing range
  • Practically everything available in English
  • Still the defining modern Arabic novelist

  • Translation issues, translation issues, translation issues -- including:
    • How many translators has this poor guy had ? I count close to thirty (!) ..... I.e. zero consistency (though admittedly given the variety of his work it can take it more than most authors' can ...)
    • Several of the major works were among the first translated, and they weren't just translated they were 'edited' and 'revised' -- i.e. probably bear little resemblance to what Mahfouz had in mind or wrote
    • Several of the translations involve multiple translators, which can be ... problematic
  • Several of the works are decidedly minor

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the complete review's Opinion

     Naguib Mahfouz is the towering figure of modern Arabic fiction. While arguably only The Cairo Trilogy is a Tolstoyan peak, few authors have written anywhere near as many different strong works. Ranging from historical fiction to contemporary-realist to the mystical, Mahfouz experimented -- largely successfully -- with the form throughout his career, and remains the broad foundation on which much Arabic fiction has grown (though few authors have been anywhere near as successful as Mahfouz in many of these areas).
     While there are huge translation issues with his work in English, at least almost all the prose is available: the novels should all have been translated by 2011, and several volumes collect many of his stories. (Mahfouz also wrote plays and many screenplays, and many of his novels have been made into films.)
     Mahfouz's work remains the best introduction to Arabic fiction, its variety offering something to please and interest most tastes. Yes, there are some duds here, and approaches and parts of works that don't work, but there are far, far more hits than misses, and his œuvre always throws up surprises.
     An eminently worthy Nobel laureate, Mahfouz is among the most significant twentieth-century literary figures.

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Naguib Mahfouz: Naguib Mahfouz's books at the complete review: See also:

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