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Echoes of an Autobiography [Paperback]

Naguib Mahfouz
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 29 1997
From the Foreword by Nadine Gordimer: "These pieces are meditations which echo that which was, has been, and is the writer Mahfouz. They are--in the words of the title of one of the prose pieces--'The Dialogue of the Late Afternoon' of his life. I don't believe any autobiography, with its inevitable implication of self-presentation, could have matched what we have here."

With more than 500,000 copies of his books in print, Naguib Mahfouz has established a following of readers for whom Echoes of an Autobiography provides a unique opportunity to catch an intimate glimpse into the life and mind of this magnificent storyteller.  Here, in his first work of nonfiction ever to be published in the United States, Mahfouz considers the myriad perplexities of existence, including preoccupations with old age, death, and life's transitory nature.  A surprising and delightful departure from his bestselling and much-loved fiction, this unusual and thoughtful book is breathtaking evidence of the fact that Naguib Mahfouz is not only a "storyteller of the first order" (Vanity Fair), but also a profound  thinker of the first order.

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From Publishers Weekly

Mahfouz's first nonfiction book to be published in English, this mosaic of autobiographical vignettes, reflections, allegories, childhood memories, dream visions and Sufi-like spiritual maxims and paradoxes is a deep pool of wisdom that confirms his stature as a writer of universal appeal. These short forms seem to come naturally to the Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian novelist, a master of chiseled prose, pithy observations and devastating asides. As the title suggests, this compilation echoes his recurring themes: the common humanity of rich and poor, the redemptive power of love, the transitoriness of happiness, the yearning of salvation, and how our inevitable destiny, death, unconsciously molds our strivings and search for meaning. In her introductory essay, Gordimer defends Mahfouz against feminists who attack his depiction of women characters, arguing that he accurately portrays the oppression of women in his society. By contrast, the women in these parables and sketches, though often impersonally observed, are symbols of spiritual release, radiant joy, beauty and freedom. There are scattered, veiled political echoes, too, as in the first-person portrait of an elementary school pupil who secretly longs for anarchy and revolution.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

"Do you deny that you had your share of the warmth of the world and its fragrance?" one interloper asks the elderly, often weary narrator in one of the series of allegorical reflections that frame the life of the Egyptian Nobel laureate (e.g., Children of the Alley, LJ 12/95). Mahfouz transcends the traditional autobiography here, offering instead distillations of an impossibly full and eventful career. The brief anecdotes recall the narrator's youth, a time "pure and unsullied"; temptation and longing to return to the embrace of family; dreams; fears of lost esteem and fallen glory; and sensuous epiphanies. A particular light, aroma, or tune will recall for the narrator, now in old age and hounded by death, snatches of a time he despairs of repossessing. Mahfouz surrenders the last quarter of this slim volume to the pithy parables of the sheikhs?as if to signal the end ("What I endured from desire made my life a yearning concealed in nostalgia"). Mahfouz's language carries the gravity of religious truth and the lyrical clarity of poetry. An enigmatic work that will please his growing numbers of American readers.?Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Autobiography of the imagination May 8 2001
Format:Paperback
Despite its title, this is definitely not an autobiography of Mahfouz. Four things prove this: the narrator has three sons (Mahfouz had two daughters); he is sent to prison (Mahfouz never was); he works for a period outside Cairo (Mahfouz never did); he joins a Sufi order (Mahfouz assured me most emphatically that he never did). This was the last book that Mahfouz wrote. In fact he did not write it; it was put together out of pieces that he had dictated, and it is not clear how far it represents the complete work that he had in mind. I believe it should be regarded as a work of fiction, though it may be a fantasy of a life he would like to have lived. It is nevertheless a moving work, and it helps to enlarge our understanding of the author.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Most Innovative AutoBiography book Sept. 21 1999
Format:Hardcover
The way he wrote the autobiography is very unique. There is no pretention or any clear chronological order. It is the same way we remember our old days.
The wordings required a deep thought and expanding imagination to really enjoy the books. Sometimes funny, sometimes it is sour.
The only thing that makes the book four stars is due to all echoes at the quarter of the last pages are based on his admired Sheik. Had he ever have his own opinions at the last days of his life?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Autobiography of the imagination May 8 2001
By Pipistrel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Despite its title, this is definitely not an autobiography of Mahfouz. Four things prove this: the narrator has three sons (Mahfouz had two daughters); he is sent to prison (Mahfouz never was); he works for a period outside Cairo (Mahfouz never did); he joins a Sufi order (Mahfouz assured me most emphatically that he never did). This was the last book that Mahfouz wrote. In fact he did not write it; it was put together out of pieces that he had dictated, and it is not clear how far it represents the complete work that he had in mind. I believe it should be regarded as a work of fiction, though it may be a fantasy of a life he would like to have lived. It is nevertheless a moving work, and it helps to enlarge our understanding of the author.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Words That Sing March 7 2007
By M. Fellenstein Hale - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you want a break from other types of books, this book is a lovely change of pace.

It consists of very short prose pieces, perfect to pick up for a few minutes or to read before bed. If words could sing, this would be quite a fascinating composition--light, happy notes; deep, melancholy tones; charming melodies.

For me, I immediately wanted to share certain passages with others. I will keep this book on my shelf to refer back to from time to time, when I want to remember how beautifully words can convey images.

I also found myself amazed that a translator (Denys Johnson-Davies) could do such a fine job. Often translated works have an awkwardness, but these pieces each flow and stand on their own as individual works.

We read this book for our book club and it was wonderful because we could each choose several pieces and read them aloud and enjoy them together.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Aug. 19 2013
By Mike - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fascinating
( Echoes of an Autobiography- paperback)

I'd like to preface my review by suggesting to those who are not very familiar with Mahfouz to first read a few of his novels, especially the "Cairo Trilogy". That is where Mahfouz is most generous with language, character development, descriptions...etc. and where "the sublime" is very reachable just beneath the surface. His novels should help a great deal in lessening the "opaqueness" that is sometimes introduced by the differences in time, place, and culture. I think to get the most out of "Echoes of an Autobiography", and perhaps even of any of his collections of short stories, one needs to be pretty familiar with Mahfouz's "language".

This is not a conventional autobiography, if at all an autobiography. It is a collection of short "pieces" (the longest is about one page) that are presented in no particular chronological order. There are reflections on boyhood and early adulthood memories, rehashing of old relationships and what might have been, contemplations of the meaning of his life, of love and other emotions and of death, in addition to deep probing into morality, religion and beliefs...etc...etc. To date, this book is where I found Mahfouz to be most abstract and economic with language (I haven't read the "Dreams" yet.) It is almost as if Mahfouz's thoughts, feelings, philosophy, life experiences, previous writings, insights into people and into things, craft ...etc. have all been thoroughly blended together and then distilled into concentrated droplets of his essence. Many pieces are haunting, while a few are so cryptic that I felt they were just beyond my reach, and I will soon be revisiting them.

I suppose that Mahfouz had to hone his ability to burry a lot between the lines, as he had to navigate through high tides of censorship, and to deal with real threats to those who would defy the political or religious establishments in Egypt, which were almost always at odds with one another, adding to the complexities through which writers like him had to live. This refined skill, along with his absolute mastery of the language, must have come handy here, perhaps in part to protect the identity of some of those who figure in his pieces (some may have been friends, relatives, and maybe even mistresses.) He might have also just not wanted to completely bare himself out, as he apparently was a pretty private man. Obviously, many of these pieces can be partly or completely of his creation, and were meant to just drive some of his thoughts home.

I have read quite a bit of Mahfouz's work, both in English and in Arabic. I read a couple of his works, including "Echoes of an Autobiography", in both languages. In the case of "Echoes...", I think that reading it in both languages helped me a bit to better decrypt a few pieces, although on a couple of occasions I found myself in disagreement with the translator over a couple of words or a sentence. On those very few occasions I would yield to the translator, who I think did a great job, since he has known Mahfouz, and may have actually conversed with him over the translation of this book, while I have never met the great writer.
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