Book Review: Naguib Mahfouz’s once-lost stories finally see the light

In the book, Mahfouz introduces characters such as the head of the quarter, the businessmen who run it, and the vegetable vendor. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2019

Book Review: Naguib Mahfouz’s once-lost stories finally see the light

  • Mahfouz's daughter found 18 never-before-seen short narratives hidden in his desk
  • ‘The Quarter’ is both new and familiar, with Mahfouz’s captivating characters and their ordinary lives

CHICAGO: Thirteen years after the death of literary giant Naguib Mahfouz, 18 never-before-seen short narratives emerged after his daughter found them hidden away in his desk. 

Attached with a note that read “to be published in 1994,” the newly discovered collection was immediately published in 2018 in Arabic, and has now been translated into English by Roger Allen with Saqi Books. 

After over a decade, admirers of one of the globe’s most prolific writers can be led once again to Egypt and into the Gamaliya quarter in Cairo in a new book called “The Quarter.” Readers can immerse themselves into Mahfouz’s famous Cairene streets and characters after a career that has spanned half a century with the publication of over 30 novels, short stories, and screenplays.

“The Quarter” is both new and familiar, with Mahfouz’s captivating characters and their ordinary lives. They live under firm patriarchy and tradition, with bold personalities. From young lovers who run away from the quarter, to how gossip can bring unintended consequences, the 1988 Nobel Laureate captures life in its most vivid form. 

He introduces characters such as the head of the quarter, the businessmen who run it, and the vegetable vendor, each with their own unique stories. He explores every aspect of life in Gamaliya and moves readers to understand his characters.

According to Allen, 1994 was significant in Mahfouz’s life, as it was the year he was stabbed in the neck by a religious fanatic, which caused paralysis in his writing hand. Allen said that Mahfouz’s writing style changed throughout his career from a heavy interest in ancient Egypt to his love for Cairo’s quarters. He continuously pushed the limits with his writing, keeping him on the radar of the authorities.

Mahfouz always touched people with his work and spoke for those whose voices could not be heard. He continues to do so even in death. In 1988, he wrote in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that “in this decisive moment in the history of civilization it is inconceivable and unacceptable that the moans of mankind should die out in the void.” This rings true today.


What We Are Reading Today: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Updated 11 December 2019

What We Are Reading Today: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist.

It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother— his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life, according to review published on goodreads.com.

The 18 personal essays collected in this book are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Noah illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty.

His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time.