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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Day the Leader Was Killed

Naguib Mahfouz

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To purchase The Day the Leader Was Killed

Title: The Day the Leader Was Killed
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1985 (Eng. 1997)
Length: 103 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: The Day the Leader Was Killed - US
The Day the Leader Was Killed - UK
The Day the Leader Was Killed - Canada
The Day the Leader Was Killed - India
Le Jour de l'assassinat du leader - France
Der letzte Tag des Präsidenten - Deutschland
Il giorno in cui fu ucciso il presidente - Italia
  • Arabic title: يوم مقتل الزعيم
  • Translated by Malak Mashem

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Our Assessment:

A- : spare, powerful novella

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 27/10/2001 Stefan Weidner
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 11/12/2001 Renate Wiggershaus
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 5/12/2001 Karl-Markus Gauß
Die Zeit D 15/11/2001 Alexandra Kedves

  From the Reviews:
  • "Das Tragische und zugleich Heroische an Machfus' Figuren ist, daß sie trotz des enormen wirtschaftlichen Drucks den moralischen Anspruch, der ihnen von der islamischen Tradition vermacht wurde, nicht aufgeben wollen. (...) 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

  • "[Dem Leser] bleibt das bittersüße Krähwinkelglück einer Liebesgeschichte, Kleinbürgerprosa auf Ägyptisch eben, nicht ohne Fremdheit, bevölkert von Figuren, die zwischen ehrenkäsigem Verhaltenskodex und ehrabschneidender Armut sich selbst verlieren oder das, was sie dafür halten. Aber auch: kleinbürgerliche Prosa. (...) Im rund 100-seitigen Büchlein über den Letzten Tag indes hat der "Balzac Ägyptens" auf jede reiche Epik verzichtet und stattdessen auf (in jedem Sinne) arme Typen gesetzt." - Alexandra Kedves, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Day the Leader Was Killed is a short novella, narrated in alternating chapters by an old man, Muhtashimi Zayed, his grandson, Elwan Fawwaz Muhtashimi, and Elwan's childhood sweetheart and now fiancée (as well as neighbour and co-worker), Randa Sulayman Mubarak. The novel is a domestic tale, focussed on the lives of these three, but it is also a novel of Egypt, and the oppressive political and economic situation there. The story leads up to the day the leader was killed -- the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat (in 1981) -- and it is Sadat's economic policy, the Infitah, in particular, that is indicted here.
       Elwan still lives with his grandfather and his parents. His parents are hardly a presence, overwhelmed in just trying to make ends meet, and it is the impossibility of achieving any sort of financial independence that weighs so heavily of Elwan (and Randa) as well: there are simply not enough opportunities to get a good enough job that would allow Elwan and Randa to marry and start a life of their own. They have been engaged for several years, and are already going old -- past their mid-twenties -- and as Elwan complains:

I was in love then, but now I am exhausted, helpless, and burdened with responsibilities. (...) Neither she nor I have a solution. We have only love and determination. Our engagement was announced in the Nasser era and we were made to face reality in the days of Infitah. We sank in the whirlpool of a mad world.
       Elwan also feels tremendous guilt about holding Randa back: as a woman she has other opportunities, able to move up in the world through marriage, while he doesn't know if he will ever be able to provide her any sort of life. Eventually the pressure on them (from family as well) becomes too great -- love can't conquer all --, and he releases her from the engagement. But the Egypt they are in is so corrupt and confused that even then opportunities that seem to present themselves turn out to have very ugly sides to them. A happy story this is not.
       It is "the abyss of the Infitah" that swallowed them and their families, an economic policy that has benefited only the corrupt and destroyed the nation's foundations (so the picture Mahfouz paints of it). Sadat bears most of the blame:
As for this victorious, smug one, he has broken the rule: his victory constituted a challenge which gave rise to new feelings, emotions for which we wre quite unprepared. He exacted a change of tune, one which had long been familiar to us. For this, we cursed him, our hearts full of rancor. And, ultimately, he was to keep for himself the fruits of victory, leaving us his Infitah, which only spelled out poverty and corruption. This is the crux of the matter.
       The three distinct voices -- the representative of the generation that has lived through so much but can now only watch rather than participate, and the two (male and female, with their very different positions and expectations in this society) representatives of the present and hope for the future -- allow for a surprisingly deep look at the contemporary Egyptian situation (anno 1981). While the basic issue in the novel is a relatively simple one -- the ability of society to continue by allowing the younger generation to start families -- the implications are profound, and Mahfouz conveys this very nicely (so also with the two sets of parents, who remain largely in the background). Particularly devastating are the alternatives Randa and Elwan are driven to, with predictably disastrous results.
       This is a society that has fallen apart, barely held together by conventions and tradition any longer. It can not continue this way, Mahfouz suggests -- hence also the setting of the novel, around the death of the man responsible for shaping this world. But there is clear no hope for a brighter future after the death of the architect of the Infitah yet, only uncertainty.
       A powerful, effective novella, surprisingly rich despite its slim size, and well-written.

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The Day the Leader Was Killed: Reviews: Naguib Mahfouz: Other books by Naguib Mahfouz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz (نجيب محفوظ, Nagib Machfus) was born in 1911 and died in 2006 He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1988.

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