Thursday, August 31, 2006


naguib mahfouz is dead

I don’t know any Arabic literature apart from the two famous classics; the perfumed garden :of the shyakh Nefzawi (Trans by Sir Richard Burton) and the Arabian nights. I have the good fortune of getting a complete 5 volume Arabian nights ‘literal and complete French translation of Dr J.C Mardus’ hardcover version very cheaply in kolkata, India sometimes in march 2003.Took a long train journey from new delhi to kolkata to spend a few days in my opinion one of the most fascinating metropolis of the world and on the last day there I wandered aimlessly around the city and as often happened stumbled into something pleasantly unexpected and in this case the ‘maidan’ and they had this cricket match so I just spent the whole afternoon watching the game and as I was going away saw this huge annual kolkata book fair that they are having right there at the other end of the maidan.

Wandered in the huge area from book stalls to book stalls but nothing really caught my attention until I stumbled upon a corner where some artists sell their paintings but saw nothing spectacular until I came to a skinny Bengali boy squatting in the dust with some charcoal drawings spread out in front of him and I saw some fine charcoal drawings of bulls in different charging poses. I asked how much each cost but he couldn’t understand English (surprisingly this being India and kolkata at that) but a young lady came to my aid as a volunteer translator and in the end I came away with three great charging bulls for unbelievably cheap price and here they are now hanging on my walls ….and almost at the closing time I came upon this book stall that sell old books and oh my what a treasure trove…I can still remember they have some of the most difficult to find books on moghul rulers…some histories, biographies etc…but I just don’t have the time to have a closer look but just grab this 5 volume Arabian nights and they were so sorry looking and moldy but the Bengali stall attendants were so helpful and anxious to have the last sell of the day that a couple of them came and cleaned up the volumes and I came back with another steal in fine condition. To this day I keep dreaming that I’ll go to kolkata again sometime soon and make sure it’ll be during the kolkata book fair and I’ll go straight and look for this stall again….

And how I got to respect naguib mahfouz happened in somewhat similar fashion…like many people I know nothing about mr mahfouz until he won the nobel prize and when he got into the wrong side of my fellow lovable jihadists and the scandal caused by his book ‘children of gebelawi’. It so happened that sometimes in the late 80s or maybe early 90s I found this book in our local library , borrowed and read it and immediately come to detest this man. My fellow jihadists were right...this book which consisted of short chapters each based on muslim/jewish old testament prophets was rather disrespectful and derisory when it came to the chapter based on the prophet Muhammad…so I don’t care very much about him…just another bloody secular wog…another stupid arab…

…and then in 1997 I went to KL international book fair at PWTC and as it happened stumbled into this stall selling Arabic publications and they have stacks upon stacks of naguib maahfouz books…I got very sore when I saw this and I mentioned to the arab/Egyptian guy who was manning the stall and declared to him that I don’t like mahfouz…he insulted islam and so on and so forth…in short I just insulted this man… but he fought back…told me that I was gravely mistaken, mahfouz was the greatest arab writer, oh no I already read his children of gebelawi I said, the book is simplistic, nothing but insults to me as a muslim… oh no no don’t judge by that one book…he insisted me to try his other books…no honestly I’m not trying to SELL you books, he said , but want you to know that he’s a real good writer… look, just buy one ok I give you big discount here …in the end I relented and bought his collection of short stories ‘the time and the place’….but like most books I bought I never read them but they sit there patiently in my library gathering dusts….

But then his name keep on appearing in the literary worlds and refuse to die out like most other nobel winners… so one day many years later I read a couple of his short stories in this volume and I was transformed! He IS (or was, now) truly a great writer! I was wrong again ( as I so often am)… and I start looking for more of his books… every time the kl international book fair came I went looking for this stall and the man who insisted me reading mahfouz but he never came back , I never see any stalls selling mahfouz books again…but then unexpected surprise again… I found the first two volumes of his cairo trilogy (Palace Walk & Palace of Desire) , ‘Midaq Alley’, ‘The Thief and the dogs’ and ‘miramar’ (with an introduction by john fowles) in PAYLESS second hand book store of all places…. And now I have a fairly good ouvre of the best of mr mahfouz writings with me… the only problem is to find the time to savor them all…I still feel angry with his children of gebelawi but lets see..i’ll try to read more of his other writings …he may be gone now but taking all things into consideration mr mahfouz was one fine man …I’ll say my fatihah to him…may he be included among the people who Allah favors amen….

enjoyed reading this, greenbottle

glad you managed to forgive this writer and be open minded enough to enjoy other stuff he'd written

now you've persuaded me to try him
A good post indeed. I suppose at the end of the day, we shouldn't really be quick to judge an author only by one of his books.
"I don’t know any Arabic literature apart from the two famous classics..."

not even arabic poetry! not even kahlil gibran?

to me, greatest classic from the arab world, not counting the Holy Qur'an: ferdowsi's shahnama (although it's in farsi, i think).
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