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Morning and Evening Talk: A Modern Arabic Novel [Hardcover]

Naguib Mahfouz

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Book Description

Nov. 15 2007 American University in Cairo Press
A late work by the Egyptian Nobel literature laureate, Morning and Evening Talk is an epic tale of Egyptian life over five generations. Set in Cairo, it traces the fortunes of three families from the arrival of Napoleon at the end of the eighteenth century to the 1980s, using short character sketches arranged in alphabetical order. This highly experimental device produces a kind of biographical dictionary, whose individual entries come together to paint a vivid portrait of life in Cairo from a range of different perspectives. The characters include representatives of every class and human type, and as the intricate family saga unfolds, a powerful picture of a society in transition and the accompanying upheaval emerges. This is a tale of change and continuity, of the death of a traditional way of life, the road to independence and beyond, seen through the eyes of Egypt's citizens. Naguib Mahfouz's last chronicle of Cairo is an elegy to a bygone era and a tribute to the Egyptian spirit. It is also one of his most technically innovative contributions to the Arabic novel.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (Nov. 15 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9774160991
  • ISBN-13: 978-9774160998
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.7 x 23.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 499 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,396,252 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'In Morning and Evening Talk, his last novel, he sets the bar high, refusing all the classical unities. Instead of rooting his story in one place, he flits between Cairo and the countryside. Instead of following a chronology, he races back and forth along a 200-year timeline. And instead of one story, he offers us 67. Each takes the form of an informal obituary - a life as it might be described by a wise neighbour. Together they describe the fortunes of three families joined by friendship, feuds and marriage.' The Financial Times 20080119 'This beautifully translated collection by the late Nobel Laureate uses the quotidian activities of Egyptian life to explore meaning and an individual's destiny. Fitting for wherever world literature is appreciated.' The Library Journal 20081202 '...a remarkable book.' The Complete Review 'When he won the Nobel prize in 1988, Mahfouz was praised for creating "an Arabian narrative art" that applied "to all mankind". Because he was the first winner from the Arab world, the emphasis was on his nationality. But what really set him apart was his narrative artistry... In Morning and Evening Talk, his last novel, he sets the bar high, refusing all the classical unities. Instead of rooting his story in one place, he flits between Cairo and the countryside. Instead of following a chronology, he races back and forth along a 200-year timeline. And instead of one story, he offers us 67. Each takes the form of an informal obituary - a life as it might be described by a wise neighbour. Together they describe the fortunes of three families joined by friendship, feuds and marriage.' The Financial Times 20080119 'By 1987, when 'Morning and Evening Talk' was first published in Egypt, Mahfouz was already an old master, looking for new ways to impose his totalizing imagination on the whole of Egypt's long history... It was for this comprehensiveness that Edward Said compared Mahfouz to Dante, who so ambitiously encompassed earthly history within supernatural models. 'Morning and Evening Talk' is a more down-to-earth, secular book than 'The Divine Comedy,' but it is based on an ancient, encyclopedic model.' The Sun 20080130 'Like an acrostic, you could spend hours piecing the characters together into their appropriate historical eras and constructing their family trees, to see if this provides illumination. Or you could flip back and forth, cross-referencing illusions. But I think I prefer it from first to finish. Approached in this fashion - the banal and brilliant, birth and death, history and politics tossed together higgledy-piggledy - it reads, ironically, just like life.' California Literary Review 20080122 'This beautifully translated collection by the late Nobel Laureate uses the quotidian activities of Egyptian life to explore meaning and an individual's destiny. Fitting for wherever world literature is appreciated.' The Library Journal 20081202

About the Author

Christina Phillips has a PhD in modern Arabic Literature and works in the Quranic Studies Department at the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London.

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A man's value is in his money." April 5 2009
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
(A star rating is not appropriate for this "novel," which is really not a novel in the traditional sense.) Written in 1987, this last entry in the Cairo series by Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz has no beginning, middle, and end, and no real plot. There are no standard chronology and no strong individual characters who develop fully during the action. Modeled on traditional Arab biographical dictionaries, which recorded the lives of influential citizens in single-paragraph entries, this is Mahfouz's most experimental novel. Here he arranges sixty-seven character sketches according to the Arab alphabetical order of the characters' first names, creating a series of short personal anecdotes which reveal lives and convey the history of three Cairo families from the Napoleonic wars through the death of Anwar Sadat.

The book begins with the death of a child, an episode which is recalled near the end of the book, and as the child's family is recreated, in random order by alphabet, the novel ripples out, incorporating different eras and other families, over four or five generations. Showing the progression of Egyptian political change, Mahfouz moves (non-chronologically) from the entrance of Napoleon into Cairo in 1798 to the British Occupation from 1882 - 1952; the 1919 Revolution against the British occupation; the Free Officer's movement, founded by Gamal Abdel Nasser, leading to the July Revolution of 1952; the Tripartite Aggression (the Suez Crisis) of 1956, in which Britain, France, and Israel attacked Egypt for nationalizing the Suez canal; the Six Day War of 1967, in which Israel attacked Egypt; the War of Attrition from 1967 - 70 between Egypt and Israel; and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, in which Egypt and Syria attempted to recapture land lost to Israel in the Six Day War.

As much as the book may be about political change, however, it is at least, if not more, about marriage and its importance in the culture. Throughout these generations, members of the same family intermarry to protect inheritance and wealth, but other marriages are also arranged among other "appropriate" families. The women are educated, at least at the level of literacy, and as time moves toward the present, the wives are often educated professionals--lawyers or physicians--who move easily between Egyptian and European cultures. A few of the individual family members move to other parts of the world--Germany, the United States, France, and Saudi Arabia, returning often to Cairo, despite their absences for significant periods of time. And while some of the characters may be passionately committed to some of the political movements of the day (and others may oppose them just as passionately), none of them are religious extremists.

Readers new to Mahfouz will probably want to start elsewhere for their introduction, perhaps with the more traditional The Cairo Trilogy or even Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth, written just two years before this novel. Written when Mahfouz was an old man reflecting on history and the meaning of being Egyptian, this novel can be tedious and sometimes frustrating. The characters' names are often very similar, making it difficult to remember who is who, and the lives of many characters resemble those of other characters and do not add significant new information. Still, like an impressionistic or pointillist painting, the individual biographies provide color and interest, which, taken together, give a picture of a broad cross section of Egyptian society dealing, over time, with the winds of change. n Mary Whipple

Palace Walk (Cairo Trilogy), Book 1
Palace of Desire (Cairo Trilogy), Book 2
Sugar Street (The Cairo Trilogy), Book 3
Children of the Alley: A Novel
Three Novels of Ancient Egypt: Khufu's Wisdom, Rhadopis of Nubia, Thebes at War (Everyman's Library)
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