Friday, August 13, 2004

Naguib Mahfouz

I noticed that long-lived prolific author, Naguib Mahfouz is releasing yet another novel. When I searched on Amazon for his other titles I was amazed at the breadth of his work. I found this very interesting article about him produced by the Egyptian government Ministry of Culture:Naguib Mahfouz: "With dozens of novels to his name, collections of short stories, fully-fledged studies of his work in book form, an increasing number of doctoral theses, and an enormous number of articles in literary and academic periodicals (in English and other languages), Naguib Mahfouz can rightfully claim the title of the best-known and most studied Arab novelist in the Anglophone world.

Naguib, who was born to a middle-class family in one of the oldest quarters in Cairo, was to give expression in powerful metaphors, over a period of half a century, to the hopes and frustrations of his nation.

Readers have so often identified themselves with his work, a great deal of which has been adapted for the cinema, theater and television, that many of his characters become household names in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.

On the other hand, his work, though deeply steeped in local reality, appeals to that which is universal and permanent in human nature, as shown by the relatively good reception his fiction has met in other cultures."

The works he produced in the first phase of his career, focusing on ancient Egypt, naturally looked particularly interesting to me.

"Admittedly written under the influence of Sir Walter Scott's historical romances, the last of the three, "The Struggle of Thebes", is particularly interesting for the way in which the novelist brought history to bear on the political scene at the time.
The novel draws on the heroic struggle of the Egyptians and their patriotic Pharaohs to expel the Hyksos, as foreign ruling invaders, from their country. "

Voices from the Other World: Ancient Egyptian Tales

"A seductive dancer is invited by the forces of law and order to disturb a district's too-perfect peace at the dawn of Egyptian civilization. A wise and popular pharaoh is betrayed by his own son, and by his dearest friends - then makes a most peculiar decision. A mummy returns to life after 3000 years, to confront the arrogant new race that now rules the land. A favoured prince flees to a faraway country when the king dies suddenly, leaving his true love behind - only to come back to question her about their lost 40 years. A famous young writer, composer of a legendary epic of Pharaoh's greatest battle with the Hittites, is carried off without warning by a mysterious disease - then speaks to us in this life from beyond the veil of death."

Khufu's Wisdom

"Pharaoh Khufu is battling the Fates. At stake is the inheritance of Egypt's throne, the proud but tender heart of Khufu's beautiful daughter Princess Meresankh and Khufu's legacy as a sage, not savage ruler. As the tale begins, Khufu is bored in his great palace at Memphis. To entertain him, his architect Mirabu expounds on the mighty masterwork he has so far spend ten years building, with little yet showing above ground - what will become the Great Pyramid of Giza. Mirabu and the clever vizier Hemiunu try other amusements as well - but to no avail. Then one of the king's sons fetches a magician with the power to predict the future. The sorcerer says that Khufu's own offspring will not inherit Egypt's throne after him, but that it will fall instead to a son born that very morning to the High Priest of Ra. Furious, Khufu and his crown prince, the ruthless Khafra, set out to change the decree of the Fates - which fight back in the form of Djedefra, the boy at the centre of the prophecy, and his heart's desire, Princess Meresankh. Yet will the unsuspecting Khufu survive the intrigue around him - not only to finish his long-awaited book of wisdom, but to become truly wise?"

Rhadopis of Nubia

"Against the background of the high politics of Sixth Dynasty-Egypt, a powerful love grows between Rhadopis, a courtesan of low birth whose ravishing beauty is unmatched in time or place, and youthful, headstrong Pharoah Merenra, worshipped by his people as a divine presence on earth. Despite the attention of an endless stream of suitors, entertained by Rhadopis' dancing, singing and stimulating conversation in her white palace on an island in the Nile, her heart remains cold and loveless - until events conspire in the strangest of ways to bring her to the attention of Pharaoh himself. From there the two of them embark on a journey of intense passion that is totally absorbing and ultimately tragic. As their obsession for one another burns wildly, they become caught up in the violent turbulence of the politics of the day - Merenra through his desire to sequester the properties of the priesthood and Rhadopis by her efforts to control the march of destiny and avoid their untimely but inevitable fate. But for Rhadopis, who has played with men's minds and danced on the scattered shards of their broken hearts, and Pharaoh, who has sought to flaunt ancient tradition for his own ends, can the power of love ultimately offer protection?"

Thebes At War

"After 200 years of occupation, the Hyksos leader in his capital in northern Egypt tells Pharaoh in the south that the roaring of the sacred hippopotami at Thebes is keeping him awake at night and demands that they be killed, galvanizing Egypt into hurling its armies into a struggle to drive the barbarians from its sacred soil forever. In battle scenes that pit chariot against chariot and doughty swordsman against doughty swordsman, and through his sensitive portrait of Ahmose, the young pharaoh whose genius brings this epic to its climax, Mahfouz dramatically depicts the Egyptian people's undying loyalty to their land and religion and their refusal to bow to outside domination. This is not just a tale of ancient, clashing armies. When Mafouz was writing this novel in 1939, other outsiders, British and Turkish, held sway over the land of Egypt, and its inhabitants were engaged in a struggle against a foreign usurpation of their sovereignty that mirrored that of their ancestors. Nor is the novel simply a tale of men and arms, for as Ahmose discovers, while the Nile flows majestically on forever, the violent currents of politics may pull hearts asunder and in gaining a kingdom, a man may lose what his soul most."
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