Cairo Modern Paperback – Dec 1 2009
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
To get the free app, enter your e-mail address or mobile phone number.
"Intriguing.... Dostoyevskyan.... Mahfouz's brilliance lies in portraying the mixture of good and evil in human character.... Mahfouz was Egypt's Balzac." —The New York Times
About the Author
Naguib Mahfouz was born in Cairo in 1911 and began writing when he was seventeen. A student of philosophy and an avid reader, his works range from reimaginings of ancient myths to subtle commentaries on contemporary Egyptian politics and culture. Over a career that lasted more than five decades, he wrote 33 novels, 13 short story anthologies, numerous plays, and 30 screenplays. Of his many works, most famous is The Cairo Trilogy, consisting of Palace Walk (1956), Palace of Desire (1957), and Sugar Street (1957), which focuses on a Cairo family through three generations, from 1917 until 1952. In 1988, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first writer in Arabic to do so. He died in 2006.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
put the highest heeled boots on your feet,
yet you remain in the end just what you are.
"Cairo Modern", written in 1945, is one of the great Naguib Mahfouz's earlier works. It is set in Cairo in the 1930s, a turbulent time when the old, decaying monarchical order and British dominance of Egypt entered its last stages. The social order was changing and burgeoning Egyptian nationalists, political radicals and religious zealots rubbed elbows with each other in a society on the edge of a radical transformation. Mahfouz took a snapshot of that society and the result is a book that seemed as entertaining as it was informative.
As noted accurately in the Product Description, the book unfolds like the beginning of a movie. It begins with a long-range view of the King Fuad University. It is evening and the sun shines off the golden dome of the main building. Slowly we zoom into the campus as student leave at the end of the day. It then zooms to a group of friends who, we soon discover in the next few brief chapters, represent a cross-section of modern Cairo (at least that section able to attend university.) The story eventually turns its focus upon Mahgub Abd al-Da'im. Mahgub is hungry in every sense of the word. He is hungry for success or at least the trappings of success and as his family's modest economic means are destroyed by an illness in the family he also finds himself hungering for a decent meal. He also hungers for a beautiful girl, Ihsan, who barely knows he exists. He settles instead for renting affection from a girl on the streets. Ihsan is a modern girl, with modern aspirations. She is also an admirer of western art and literature, including Goethe. This reference is not accidental as Ihsan and Mahgub are asked to enter into a Faustian bargain that on its face seems to provide them with what they each feel they most need. The rest of the novel deals with the consequences of their bargain.
"Cairo Modern" was a wonderful book. As with Mahfouz's most famous work, The Cairo Trilogy Palace Walk (Cairo Trilogy), Palace of Desire (Cairo Trilogy II), and Sugar Street (The Cairo Trilogy, 3), I found myself swept into the streets of Cairo and felt as if I had a real sense of the place and people Mahfouz wrote about. I could feel the aspirations of the primary characters and had a real sense of the changing world that they lived in. I've read most of Mahfouz's work and, even if it is smaller in scope than Cairo Trilogy or Children of the Alley, it is still a brilliant vignette of Cairo during a tumultuous moment in time. It is well worth reading. L. Fleisig
His world vision is also pessimistic: only money is important and protects a powerful cartel of corrupted people in high places.
For him, religion is only a tiny varnish: a small minority of believers is exploiting the sufferings of many millions of fellow believers.
In this story of the merciless struggle for survival by a destitute, but cynical and opportunistic, student Naguib Mahfouz depicts frankly the violent personal and familial confrontations and the biting and obscene schemings of those in power. He also has no fear to revile bluntly social institutions, like marriage or the civil bureaucracy.
This book is a must read for all lovers of world literature.
Among the students, Mahgub Abd al-Da'im is the poorest, and he must literally starve himself in order to finish the school year, becoming more and emaciated as time passes. Finding a job upon graduation is a matter of his whole family's survival. When Mahgub contacts a former neighbor, Salim Al-Ikhshidi, for help, Al-Ikhshidi, in consultation with governmental higher-ups, presents a plan for Mahgub, who is in no position to be selective. If Mahgub will agree to marry the lover of a high-ranked government official and become part of a ménage a trois, all his expenses will be paid and a job will be guaranteed in the ministry where Al-Ikhshidi himself works. Desperate, Mahgub agrees, intending to "find satisfaction in a marriage that was a means, rather than an end." On his wedding day, he meets the bride--the former girlfriend of one of his closest friends, a girl his friend still loves.
Mahgub's marriage is filled with the expected complications as he tries to hide his poverty-stricken past and his betrayal of his college friend, at the same time that he is rising in the government, associating with wealthy and influential friends, and becoming arrogant, all sources of satire by Mahfouz. Mahgub and his wife become a perfect couple--"Each of us has sold himself in exchange for status and money." When the carefully created charade begins to unravel, the final scenes are worthy of the grandest of farces.
Ultimately, the Egyptian setting becomes less important than the universal themes and attitudes which the author is illustrating--the naivete of college students, the lure of wealth, the arrogance of power, the pretentions of the newly affluent, the willingness to sacrifice principle for expediency, and, ultimately, the ability of "the clique of most powerful criminals to destroy the weaker ones." As Mahgub's former friends gather to discuss the latest governmental scandal at the end of the novel, they hark back to their arguments at the novel's opening, wondering about the role of religion, the definition of evil, the mores of their society, and all the interactions among these. Life is busy for these young men, but tomorrow is another day. Mary Whipple
After you read this book, you will understand why Mahfouz was a world-class author. This story still holds up today, even though some references have become dated. The tortured reflections and desperate choices made by Mahfouz's richly portrayed characters are reminiscent of Dosteyevsky ("A Nasty Story" comes to mind). Mahfouz understood people well. This book is well worth reading. Highly recommended.
The story is worthy of a Hitchcock film and has the reader reaching for more.