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The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street [Hardcover]

Naguib Mahfouz , Edward W. Said
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 16 2001 Everyman's Library (Cloth) (Book 248)


Naguib Mahfouz’s magnificent epic trilogy of colonial Egypt appears here in one volume for the first time. The Nobel Prize—winning writer’s masterwork is the engrossing story of a Muslim family in Cairo during Britain’s occupation of Egypt in the early decades of the twentieth century.


The novels of The Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence. Palace Walk introduces us to his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, his cloistered daughters, Aisha and Khadija, and his three sons–the tragic and idealistic Fahmy, the dissolute hedonist Yasin, and the soul-searching intellectual Kamal. Al-Sayyid Ahmad’s rebellious children struggle to move beyond his domination in Palace of Desire, as the world around them opens to the currents of modernity and political and domestic turmoil brought by the 1920s. Sugar Street brings Mahfouz’s vivid tapestry of an evolving Egypt to a dramatic climax as the aging patriarch sees one grandson become a Communist, one a Muslim fundamentalist, and one the lover of a powerful politician.


Throughout the trilogy, the family’s trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two World Wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries. Filled with compelling drama, earthy humor, and remarkable insight, The Cairo Trilogy is the achievement of a master storyteller.

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The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street + A Bend in the River
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“The highest achievement of The Cairo Trilogy [is] the creation of memorable characters whose circumstances of life are unimaginably remote from our own, but whose aspirations are the same. The Cairo Trilogy extends our knowledge of life; it also confirms it.” –Boston Globe

“Luminous…All the magic, mystery and suffering of Egypt in the 1920s are conveyed on a human scale.” –New York Times Book Review

“The alleys, the houses, the palaces and mosques and the people who live among them are evoked as vividly as the streets of London were conjured up by Dickens.” –Newsweek

“A masterful kaleidoscope of emotions, ideas and perspective. Mahfouz has captured a family and its homeland at one gloriously varied moment in a cycle.” –Newsday

“Mahfouz presents us with a different concept of the world and makes it real. His genius is not just that he shows us Egyptian colonial society in all its complexity; it is that he makes us look through the vision of his vivid characters and see people and ideas that no longer seem alien.” –Philadelphia Inquirer

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, he has been influenced by many Western writers, including Flaubert, Balzac, Zola, Camus, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and, above all, Proust. He has more than thirty novels to his credit, ranging from his earliest historical romances to his most recent experimental novels. In 1988, Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He lives in the Cairo suburb of Agouza.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cairo Trilogy: Timely and Timeless April 17 2003
Don't let the size of this book scare you off. The chapters are short and are themselves self-contained stories: they make for perfect nighttime reading installments! And the plot, characters and wisdom of the book are consistently illuminating from the first pages to the very end. It is staggering how effortlessly Mahfouz feeds us the richest possible detail without ever allowing the energy of the story to flag.
In the wake of war in Iraq, an American reader will be particularly enriched from experiencing this novel. It tells the story of three generations of an Egyptian family between the two World Wars and reveals much about daily life in a Muslim family and the manner in which Western geopolitics impacted Arab life and culture. The pull of Western values and ideas on traditional Egyptian culture is so clearly and persuasively presented that the politics, resentments and even opportunities for understanding in today's Middle East suddenly seem much more discernible.
What makes the book a real standout is the way it presents profound life lessons and experiences in such a highly entertaining fashion. Serious political and social issues are explored beside the very real, sometimes ugly and often hilarious foibles of each character. The sincere quest for holiness seems as important and genuine in the lives of characters as the unquenchable thirst for pleasure. Mahfouz never preaches about the "correct path", but rather shares the complicated lives of his characters without sentimentality, prejudice or judgment.
The Cairo Trilogy is a breathtaking, uplifting and deeply affecting achievement. The prose is luminous, the incredible evocation of the sights and smells of Egypt unforgettable, the believability of the characters complete.
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4.0 out of 5 stars One of the Greatest Novels in Arabic Litirature Feb. 14 2003
This novel is considered to be the best Mahfouz ever written through his long career as a storyteller.
It consists of 3 parts: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street; and just to make things clear, the above three titles are supposed to be names of quarters in Egypt (with "between two castles" instead of "Palace walk").
The first part introduces Ahmad Abdul-Jawad the merchant and father of 3 boys and 2 girls, and the husband of the weak degraded wife Amina.
The story really spans over the way he treated his family firmly, as opposed to his secret way of life, as a self-indulging playboy. The two elder sons play major roles in the story, one of whom is a hard working student and the other is a big time lady's man. Najib Mahfouz made a good job in expressing the two girls feelings about marriage. ... 5 stars
The second part continues from where the first stopped, and is agian a good read. It explores what happened after the dramatic occurences in the first part, and the major hero of this part is Kamal the youngest son of Abdul-Jawad. It explores his silent Platonic love with a high-class rich girl. It also explores how he turned from a fundamentalist to a total disbeliever. ... 4 stars
The third part is the one I hated the most, it seemed to me as an account promoting communism. It explores the live of the sons and grand sons of Abdul-Jawad, who can't get out of his house. Homosexuality is added to this volume as an extra. Kamal is still studying and writing about philosophy, and is still a big time disbeliever. ... 3 stars
And over all, Mahfouz does a great job in expressing the feelings of people, but the only thing I hate about his writing style is that he makes no distinction between the narrator and the hero.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!!! Dec 28 2002
I just finished reading Palace of Desire, ot is great. Palace of Desire continues the Cairo Trilogy of Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz. Like it's excellent predecessor, Palace Walk, it follows the family saga of the patriarchal merchant al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad and his children in 1920s Egypt. The changes occurring in the family parallel the upheaval in the outside world as a new generation comes to power, challenging al-Sayyid on the one hand and English rule on the other. The particular focus of this installment is Kamal, a nascent writer who is apparently modeled on Mahfouz himself.
The book brilliantly evokes the lost world of 20's Cairo and there are some funny set pieces, typically involving sex. As the story moves along, we get a richly detailed picture of these peoples lives, but seem to be living them in real time.
This was a great work, one I recommend to anybody. Other books I like are Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children and Paul Omeziri's Descent into Illusions.
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