Yes! I am actually travelling to a new country in my Around the World trip. I have spent the last few days in an Egyptian alley, immersed in the beautiful writing of Naguib Mahfouz, and hoping that a family won’t be seduced by wealth into forgetting the common people in their midst. It was written in 1977, but boy does it feel relevant to current Egyptian issues! My review follows and then my update.
In the passionate dark of dawn, on the path between death and life, within view of the watchful stars and within earshot of the beautiful, obscure anthems, a voice told of the trials and joys promised to our alley. In The Harafish, Nobelist Naguib Mahfouz spins out an epic tale of many generations of a single family living in an Egyptian city. The tale begins with an abandoned infant, taken in by a local man and raised as his own. The family is poor, but the child is raised with love and taught to value justice. Rivalry develops with the biological son of the adoptive family, and so a complex saga begins. The tale involves vast changes in family fortunes and family and local politics. There is romance, there is scandal, there are honorable battles, and there are murders. There are debates about morality, the nature of fate, economics, and social justice, but all of them are framed in a poetic language that carries the tale along. It took me just a couple days to get through this book, and I found I wanted to get back to it from the breaks I had to take to engage in the real world. According to the translator, “the harafish” literally translates as riffraff, but in this novel means the common people. Just as the novel is the tale of a family and its fortunes, so this is a tale of the fate of the harafish living in this little alley and whether that fate will ever be in their own hands.
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