Home Home Home About Us Home About Us About Us About Us /links/index.html /links/index.html /links/index.html /advertising/index.html /links/index.html /advertising/index.html /advertising/index.html /advertising/index.html About Us About Us /archives/index.html About Us /archives/index.html About Us /archives/index.html /archives/index.html /subscribe/index.html /archives/index.html /subscribe/index.html /archives/index.html /subscribe/index.html /subscribe/index.html /survey/index.html /subscribe/index.html /survey/index.html /subscribe/index.html /survey/index.html /survey/index.html /survey/index.html /links/index.html /survey/index.html /links/index.html /links/index.html /links/index.html
Home About Us About Us /links/index.html /advertising/index.html /advertising/index.html
About Us /archives/index.html /archives/index.html /subscribe/index.html /subscribe/index.html /survey/index.html /survey/index.html /survey/index.html /links/index.html










Camps & Sports


Children’s Corner

Collected Features


Cover Stories

Distance Learning


Famous Interviews


Medical Update

Metro Beat

Movies & Theater


Music, Art & Dance

Special Education

Spotlight On Schools

Teachers of the Month


















New York City
November 2002

Nobel Laureates in Literature
An Ongoing Series to Share the Writings of Great Authors with the Public
Naguib Mahfouz: 1988 Nobel Prizewinner
By Lillian L. Schapiro

The award of the Nobel Prize in literature to Naguib Mahfouz awakened Egypt’s people to his place in the world’s regard. He had started writing at the age of 17 and continued to experiment in various forms–short stories, plays, essays–but it was the Nobel that earned him recognition in Arabic fiction. He has been called the Egyptian Balzac, Dickens and Dostoevsky, reflecting some of his own favorite authors, which include Tolstoy, Chekhov, Proust, Kafka and such playwrights as Ibsen, Shaw and O’Neill. But it is Egypt, the country, its history and the lives lived by its families that is the rock foundation of his own existence. His parents were middle-class Muslims, his father a civil servant, as was Mahfouz until the income from his writing allowed him to devote himself entirely to what he loved best in life. He attended the Fuad I University, later renamed Cairo University, with a degree in philosophy. In the 91 years of his life he has made only two short trips outside Egypt, government-mandated trips to Yemen and Yugoslavia. In fact, he sent his daughters to Stockholm to accept the Nobel award.

In a slender volume entitled The Day My Leader Was Killed we share the thinking and hopes of three characters: a very pious grandfather, his grandson, who is more concerned with the great love he feels for Randa, a beautiful girl who is bound by the strict codes of behavior which prohibit young people from expressing their romantic attractions. The political and economic terrain during this period is a thread that runs through the story, crashing into a finale with the final assassination of Sadat.

This deceptively simple story, which illustrates the essence of Egypt and its people, was richly developed by Mahfouz into his most important work: the three volumes of the Cairo trilogy. Three generations of a Cairo family are the basis of these books, describing their lives from the end of World War I to 1944. In Midaq Alley we meet a varied cast: Uncle Kamil, a seller of sweets, his next-door storekeeper, young Abbas, the barber, Kirsha the café owner with a penchant for drugs and young boys (and his much-abused wife, who finally attacks him in his café.) The many other characters include the baker, a formidable woman who, in an unusual reversal of family roles, behaves like a tyrant to her husband, much to the amusement of the Midaq Alley inhabitants. The serious love in the community is related by Abbas and his unrequited feelings for Hamida, who sees love possible only when it also includes money enough to satisfy her real passion–beautiful clothes. Mrs. Afify, community matchmaker, is highlighted, with results of her arrangements not always ensuring a happy future for those being united. One extremely important character in this most enjoyable novel is Salim Alwan, who, like Abbas, has his eye on Hamida, but as a wealthy industrialist has a better chance with her. Another character “Zaita the cripple-maker,” practices an extraordinary livelihood.

In Mahfouz’s stories, the economic and political affairs of Egypt are always present. His writings did not please all of his fellow citizens, particularly Muslims with the strictest adherence to the Qu’ran. An attack on the author by one such enraged Egyptian left Mahfouz with a badly damaged right arm–his writing arm.

In an investigation of the attack, Omar Abdul Rahman was arrested in an FBI sting in 1993 and is now in a federal prison in the Midwest. When questioned about Mahfouz, he denied any involvement in the attack on him but declared that if the writer had been tried and found guilty, the punishment should have been execution.

Today, his companions in Egypt make it possible for this special man, who now has sight and hearing problems, to enjoy conversation and laughter. On a happy note, Mahfouz currently lives in Cairo with his wife, two daughters and their two dogs. #

Lillian L. Shapiro, former supervisor of high school libraries in NYC Schools, is the author of Fiction for Youth.

City: State:

Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919.Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2002.