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the Complete Review
the complete review - anthology

Life's Wisdom

Naguib Mahfouz

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To purchase Life's Wisdom

Title: Life's Wisdom
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Genre: various
Written: (2006)
Length: 115 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Life's Wisdom - US
Life's Wisdom - UK
Life's Wisdom - Canada
Life's Wisdom - India
  • from the Works of the Nobel Laureate
  • Edited by Aleya Serour

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Our Assessment:

(-) : appealing enough selection of aphorisms

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Life's Wisdom is a collection of a few hundred aphorisms and observations culled from Mahfouz's writing in English translation. Grouped together in separate sections by subject-matter -- 'History and Politics', 'Truth, Art, and Science', etc. -- they are generally just sentence-long pearls of wisdom, and amount to a distillation of Mahfouz's opinions on a wide variety of subjects.
       The selections range from the very simple:

Anything is better than nothing.
       to the cleverly amusing:
What good is remorse after eighty ?
       to the practically cynical:
Marriage is the ultimate surrender in life's losing battle.
       There's a zen-like simplicity to some of the thoughts:
The best definition of life is that it is nothing.
       And only occasionally does the absence of context leave a judgment appear too stark and simplistic by itself:
Socialism is an expression of envy against the successful.
       But overall the collection does remind one, again and again, of Mahfouz's wise and fundamentally generous view of mankind. It's not a substitute for the actual works, of course, but it's an appealing little volume to leaf through, with many attractive observations.

       Life's Wisdom is also of interest for Aleya Serour's Introduction. She started working at AUC Press in the 1970s, where she worked with Mahfouz "as his so-called 'literary agent'", and she offers a brief glimpse of the behind-the-scenes publishing efforts which is certainly of some interest.
       Surprisingly, she admits:
But during the thirty or more years I have known him, I had little time to read more than four or five of his novels, and perhaps some of his short stories. It was not until I started working on this little, big book (big in the wisdom it contains), that I was astounded and fascinated by what I read.
       Leaving aside the unusual (or probably not) situation of someone handling an author's books but not being familiar with them, the approach was probably helpful in the making of this book: she clearly knew Mahfouz and his thought very well before actually coming to (most of) the books, and this surely gave her a different perspective than that most readers could bring to his work (and to selecting from it).

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Life's Wisdom: 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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