One of the famous works of the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz was his Cairo Trilogy, set in the Egyptian capital. He did a great job writing these three books.
In normal circumstances a reader would start with volume 1, move on to volume 2 and end with volume 3. Now I did follow another course. I started with the first volume (بين القصرين, Palace Walk), then I moved on to volume 3, for I did not have volume 2. While reading volume 3 I discovered a secondhand copy of volume 2 (قصر الشوق Palace of Desire). Now I have finished volume 3 and I still have a volume in store.
Some books with a family history (fiction and non-fiction) give a nice family tree somewhere at the start of the book. When a book does not give a blossoming tree I have to make one myself, often I hit the borders of a the piece of paper I use. Too much information I want to write down. I want to put into this tree not only the mentioned family members, but also hangers-on, like friends and foes.
The central in this volume (set in the period 1935-1944) is Kamal, son of the late shop owner Sayyid al-Jawad, who started of in the first volume. Kamal is a teacher and a part time philosopher and writer, who writes obscure articles about foreign philosophers. He is single and prefers to take a withdrawn position, not only in his family life, but also in wider society.
Kamal has three young nephews who play an important role in this volume. Starting as young students they take up a position in society, different positions, to reflect the complexities of Egyptian society in those days. Ridwan studies law and adheres to a split off of the important Wafd party. Abd a-Mun’im becomes a strict follower of the orthodox Muslim Brotherhood. The third one is Ahmed, who becomes a socialist. By creating three nephews, three position in the Egyptian society, Mahfouz creates the possibility to show the Egyptian world in his volume.
I have enjoyed reading this volume, just as I did reading the first volume. The complexities and the different views in this book are clearly presented, with out making it an extended pamphlet. It is a novel to the core with likable and unlikable characters.
Somewhere I read that Mahfouz picks up speeds when the volumes increase, but still volume 3 does not hurry, even though all these years have been put into these pages. Just take your time when you read, do not hurry (others are much better at it than you), let the family sink in, let the smells of the old town touch your nostrils, let the colours of the fabric of the imposing houses touch your eyelids, let the noises of people passing by creep into your ears. Sit back and enjoy.
Naguib Mahfouz – Sugar Street, السكرية , Al-Sukkariyya – 1957