This is the first novel by the Egyptian writer Nagieb (or Naguib Mahfouz), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the year 1988. Mahfouz was born in 1911 and he passed away in 2006. He was a prolific writer but his output decreased after an attack on his life which left him severely handicapped.
I have read Modern Cairo, published in 1945, so this modernity took place some time ago, but I do not know if the situation has changed very much.
Central to the story are four friends who study at University, three of them full time and one shares his time with the profession of a journalist. Ma’mun Ridwaan is an orthodox muslim and has pan-Arabic views. Another student is Ali Taha (and his grilfriend Ihsaan) who is socialist and atheist. Ahmed Badier is the one who is journalist and member of the Wafd, a political part. The last one is the protagonist, his name is Mahgub Abd al-Da’im, he is against all systems of morality, he opposes all his friends.
Maghub lives in the same lodgings as the other students. One day he receives a letter from his father who is critically ill. He travels to his parents. One of the things that he finds out that his weekly allowance from his parents will be cut from 3 dollars to 1 dollar per month. It is a great shock to him. It even troubles his relationship with his father more then before. He gets another (and cheaper) lodgings. He tries to find financial help from rich relatives and his friends. He is not hindered by any scruples. He wants to finish his studies and he wants to get a good job, by all means. He is ambitious, in overdrive. In order to get a job a man from his village arranges a marriage. He is set for the way upwards. Untill ….
The story is set in a context of shifting political situations as the occupier (the British) moves out of the country. He is confronted with corruption and decadence and nepotism, but Maghub does not care. He is willing to discard his parents, all in order to rise through the ranks. He even thinks of joining the Muslim Brotherhood, if this will help furthering his career. The favorite word of Maghub is ‘shit’. Shit to morality, shit to honesty, shit to decency, shit to obligations. Shit to society that is sick to its very core.
It has been a good and compelling read.
Naguib Mahfouz – Modern Cairo – 1945