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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical

Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber

Naguib Mahfouz

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Title: Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (Eng. 2001)
Length: 153 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber - US
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  • Reflections of a Nobel Laureate 1994-2001
  • From Conversations with Mohamed Salmawy
  • First published in Al Ahram Weekly between 1994 and 2001

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting pieces, but one wishes for more

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Times Higher Ed. Supp. . 23/8/2002 Turi Munthe

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The complete review's Review:

       Naguib Mahfouz has long had a weekly column in al-Ahram, and after the attempt on his life that left him at least initially physically unable to write, he enlisted the help of Mohamed Salmawy and continued the column, as a sort of interview. The collection of pieces here are from the resulting columns, though -- except for the introduction -- the words are all Mahfouz's, each a short exposition on some particular (or general) topic.
       The book is divided into nine sections, each focussing on a different topic -- 'The Nobel and Other Awards', 'My Cafés', 'Mother Egypt', etc. Ranging from reminiscences to opinion pieces, it makes for an interesting mix -- though almost everywhere one wishes for more detail. As is, the pieces are very short, almost all a page or less. Nevertheless, they do offer quite a bit.
       From autobiographical detail to his opinions on cloning (!), a lot is covered here, and there are fascinating titbits strewn all about. For example, Mahfouz notes that the high regard for foreign literature led to fake translations:

The covers of books often bore misleading information: novels written in Egypt, in Arabic, would often have "Translated from the French" emblazoned across their dust-jackets.
     Actual translations were often just as misleading, and I well remember being amazed at the familiar manner in which Guy de Maupassant would introduce the Prophet's hadith in his novels.
       Mahfouz offers considerable insight into his own ideas about literature and writing, though discussing only aspects of phases of his development and a few of his many works. Still, his focus on the novel as something "driven by an idea" certainly comes across. Also welcome is his focus on literary excellence as a "standard that applies across national boundaries", even when much of the world is not aware of specific books or authors:
Stature is, after all, determined by the work, not by the extent of its dissemination.
       Certain pieces stand nicely on their own, almost Borgesian considerations of an idea -- so, for example, in writing on 'The Arabic Novel', where he argues that:
     The stories told in the Qu'ran follow the most modern principles of novel writing. (...) They are more like twentieth-century literary experiments, in which events do not follow a monotonous, diachronic sequence, but move according to dramatic requirements, which dictate where the different parts of the story are located.
       From the bizarre (a book contract he signs with an "official copyright pirate") to the strong stand he takes on many significant issues (including his insistence that: "It is absolutely inadmissible that a book or a painting be banned because it is supposedly base"), these piece offer a good variety and an interesting insight into the man, his thoughts, and his life. But it's a jumbled bag of stuff, and while all of it is appealing, one constantly wishes for more. Almost all these pieces afford little more than glimpses, and welcome though these are, most readers would likely prefer the bigger picture.
       Enjoyable and worthwhile, but almost more of a tease than a real book.

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Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber: 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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