Starting in the next couple of days (depending on how my final papers go this week) I am going to start a close reading and discussion of Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy. Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988 and just recently passed away in 2006. The Cairo Trilogy (Bein al-Qasrein) originally appeared in serial in the Egyptian journal al-Risalah al-Jadida beginning in 1955, until the folding of the journal before the whole of the trilogy could be published. The Cairo Trilogy was published in book form in 1956.
The epic realist novel spans from just before the 1919 Egyptian Revolution until the years of WWII. It depicts the lives of the al-Jawad family as they navigate this turbulent time in Egyptian history. The family patriarch, al-Sayyid Ahmad abd al-Jawad is a tyrant who rules his family with an iron fist, while leading a double life of self-indulgent, drunken carousing.
As time passes, his authority begins to erode and the family members find themselves with new freedoms mirroring new freedoms Egyptians experienced after the 1919 Revolution. Despite the new freedoms, this period remains a time of paralysis in the lives of the family, as the eldest son Yaseen cares only for the indulgence of bodily desires and women, and the intellectual, youngest son Kamal is unable to settle down and marry or bring any of his intellectual desires to fruition.
Enough spoiler for now! Next time I will be discussing chapter one. The Cairo Trilogy is available from Everyman’s Library all together, or the novels can be bought separately. I really recommend the Everyman’s Library edition. My opinion is that it is much nicer to have all the novels together and it’s a snazzy looking volume. You can get it for under $25. The more economical route would be to buy the books separately (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street). They are the same translation and each can be bought from Amazon.com for $.01 plus the cost of shipping. The first time I read the trilogy, I read them this way. I do like having the Everyman’s Library version because this is one of my favorite books.
I encourage any of my readers to follow along with me. This project is going to take quite some time, probably more than a year. There are 168 chapters in the trilogy, and I intend to go chapter by chapter. So if you start late even, don’t worry! There will be plenty of time to catch up!
See you all next time!