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Cairo Modern Paperback – Dec 1 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (Dec 1 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307473538
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307473530
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.1 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 281 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,164,501 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"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.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9d2eb9a8) out of 5 stars 12 reviews
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cfe4720) out of 5 stars In the end, you are exactly--what you are Aug. 22 2008
By Lonya - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Put on a wig with a million curls,
put the highest heeled boots on your feet,
yet you remain in the end just what you are.

Goethe, Faust.

"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
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cfe49f0) out of 5 stars Cynicism, audacity and ambition without limits June 9 2009
By Luc REYNAERT - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In this novel dominated by a selfish and vicious character, Naguib Mahfouz paints a blackish portrait of his home country, Egypt. The country is undermined by the cancer of poverty (the chasm between the haves and the have-nots), of corruption (the completely biased nomination process of civil servants, bid rigging, fraudulent elections) and of nepotism (the crucial questions are: do you have someone to pull the strings to get you this job? Can you ask the hand of the daughter of a powerful civil servant?)

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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cfe4c30) out of 5 stars "Don't waste money applying for a job. The question boils down to this: Are you related to someone in a position of power?" Dec 14 2009
By Mary Whipple - Published on
Format: Paperback
Set in the 1930s and published in 1945, Cairo Modern is, by turns, ironic, satirical, farcical, and, ultimately, cynical, as the author creates a morality tale in which life's most basic guiding principles are still undetermined. World War II has kept the British in England as a foreign power, a weak Egyptian monarchy is under siege by reformers, and the army is growing. The plight of the poor is an urgent national problem. As the novel opens, four college students, all due to graduate that year, are arguing moral principles, one planning to live his life according to "the principles that God Almighty has decreed," while others argue in favor of science as the new religion, materialism, social liberation, and even love as guiding principles. None of the students have any respect for their government, which they see as "rich folks and major families."

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
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cfe4eac) out of 5 stars "No wound hurts a dead man,,," (half a line of poetry by al-Mutanabbi) March 26 2010
By John Sollami - Published on
Format: Paperback
This 1945 masterfully executed novel was one of the first from Nobel-prize winner Naguib Mahfouz. A sharp observer of Egyptian society and human behavior, Mahfouz presents a cinematic opening onto the lives of four Egyptian university students in the early 1930s. Each one represents a different segment of Egyptian society. One is a devout follower of Islam and is guided by its principles, another is a romantic and an atheist and progressive socialist, a third is simply a journalist objectively reporting on what he sees, and the fourth, Mahgub, is a self-doubting but distinctly cynical and nihilistic person out to survive and overcome his poverty in a corrupt and cruel nation. Mahfouz makes this student's story the main focus of the novel. In the course of telling this tale, the author presents the huge class differences in Egyptian society as well as its basic corruption and the yearning of its people for change. Nihilism is born of despair, poverty, and perhaps jealousy, and all three of these forces drive Mahgub to choose as his mentor and life guide a cocky government official who has mastered the art of manipulation for his own ends. The sad plight of women is also embodied in the choices made by the beautiful student Ihsan Shihata. Although she is initially seen as choosing to honor her feelings of love for one of the students, her life becomes upended and completely compromised as her family and parents want her only to find a rich man in order to guarantee their economic survival. Ihsan and Mahgub are two of a kind and their story is simply yet brilliantly and dramatically told.

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.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c8731bc) out of 5 stars 1940's and still so fresh June 2 2008
By George Hopcraft - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a well translated classic and an enthralling read. The book itself is beautifully printed on excellent paper and a joy to handle.
The story is worthy of a Hitchcock film and has the reader reaching for more.

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