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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Journey of Ibn Fattouma

Naguib Mahfouz

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To purchase The Journey of Ibn Fattouma

Title: The Journey of Ibn Fattouma
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1983 (Eng. 1992)
Length: 148 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: The Journey of Ibn Fattouma - US
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Die Reise des Ibn Fattuma - Deutschland
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  • Arabic title: رحلة إبن فطومة
  • Translated by Denys Johnson-Davies

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Our Assessment:

A- : simple, effective story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 29/1/1993 Rasheed El-Enany
The NY Rev. of Book . 22/9/1994 J.M.Coetzee
TLS . 13/11/1992 Robert Irwin
World Literature Today . Fall/1993 Issa Peters

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mahfouz has approached his historical model with less than a reverent attitude; his intention was partly to parody it. (...) Since the book is an ambitious allegorical journey through historical time, from the dawn of human society to the communist state, it is only fitting that it should stop at the present and leave a question mark over the future." - Rasheed El-Enany, The Independent

  • "The style of the Arabic original is descriptive, sensuous, and sometimes moving. The translation, coming from the pen of an experienced translator, is meticulously faithful to the original while maintaining complete idiomatic English that flows smoothly." - Issa Peters, World Literature Today

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:

       Qindil Muhammad al-Innabi is the son of a man who fell in love again at the age of eighty, and married a girl of seventeen, Fattouma al-Azhari. He is given the name 'Ibn Fattouma' -- 'son of Fattouma' -- by his brothers, a means of: "washing their hands of any possible relationship with them and casting doubts upon my mother."
       Qindil eventually falls in love with a girl named Halima, and despite his mother's misgivings the two become engaged. Things don't quite work out: when the Sultan's third chamberlain sees Halima he wants her for his own; her father can't refuse the powerful man, and Halima is married off to this Sheikh. Heartbroken, the twenty-year-old Qindil decides to set off and learn about the world outside his homeland. The mysterious land of Gebel -- a sort of Shangri-la, which no one has first-hand reports about -- is his ultimate goal.
       Qindil expects to spend ten days or so in each of the countries along his way ("Ten days anywhere is long enough" he's told before he sets out, and he thinks that sounds right), and be back home after a year or so. Each chapter recounts his visit to yet another country, five in all, each very different from the others. It is the experience Qindil wants -- "I relinquish one civilization and give myself over to a new one" -- though ultimately he winds up getting a bit more than expected.
       The first stop is Mashriq, already very different from his Islamic homeland as everyone goes around naked and worships the full moon. He falls in love with a woman there, Arousa, but the ways of the land are different and he can't marry (or purchase) her outright. But a union, of sorts, is established and he settles down here, staying for years, fathering children. Driven to bring his son up on the principles of Islam, he runs afoul of local custom and is arrested and deported.
       He continues his journey, now to Haira -- a Soviet-like totalitarian country that declares war against Mashriq. It's a war of liberation, but the prisoners of war are then sold off. Arousa happens to be one, and Qindil can buy her -- but once again, a more powerful man wants his woman. When he doesn't hand her right over he is arrested and convicted at a show trial, spending the next twenty years in prison.
       A coup in Haira, with a changing of the guard, means freedom, and Qindil travels on to Halba, an America-like country where freedom is prized over all. Qindil has his doubts about this too, but falls in love again, and marries Samia. Once again, he settles down, until a chance encounter with Arousa makes him pick up his travels again.
       Qindil ventures to Aman, a country with a different Soviet-style look to it, with everyone working, an official minder following Qindil's every step (and even sharing his hotel room), and little chance of his being allowed to extend his ten day stay. By the time he leaves -- wondering which direction Arousa has moved on in -- war has broken out here too.
       The next place he goes to is Ghuroub,a more sedate and philosophical place. Here Qindil prepares for the trip to Gebel -- and has to set out for it, possibly before he is entirely ready for it. The final chapter is titled "The Beginning", Qindil's manuscript breaking off before it's clear what he finally achieved -- or what, indeed, mysterious Gebel is.

       The Journey of Ibn Fattouma is a clever if occasionally too simplistic parable of different forms of government and society, seen especially -- and very effectively -- in relation to Islam (both theoretical and the less-than-perfect real-life examples of Islamic states). Qindil's travels and observations are engaging and very nicely related -- though much is a bit too quickly brushed over. War breaks out several times too often; presented as it is, it comes to look like an inevitability in practically each of these situations, which doesn't seem to be what Mahfouz means. Qindil's love-life is also a bit odd, his passion understandable but also too quickly indulged in (and then disposed of, as he leaves family after family behind). But the strengths of the text easily outweigh all the weaknesses.
       An enjoyable and thoughtful novel, certainly recommended.

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The Journey of Ibn Fattouma: 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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