Palace Walk ~ Naguib Mahfouz ~ 9/98 ~ Book Club Online
July 31, 1998 - 04:33 am

Palace Walk
Naguib Mahfouz

We are currently corresponding with Professor Roger Allen, of the University of Pennsylvania, a friend of Naguib Mahfouz, and an expert in his writings, and have placed his most recent comments here:

Translation Issues in Palace Walk

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
Questions for Discussion: Wrap Up

Well, what do you think? We're at the end of our two month odyssey through the culture and literature of Egypt. What's your verdict?

-- We're keeping a running tally of the elements we've identified so far in the book. What other elements struck you when you read it? Which element is, to you, the most important in the story?

  • historical background
  • cultural influences
  • religious dictates
  • character
  • irony, style: language
  • other literary references
  • voice
  • plot

    Supplementary Reading:

    The Koran

    What the Title Means

    Religious Background of Palace Walk

    Arabic Dictionary .

    Mahfouz and His Works .

    Egypt State Information Service on Mahfouz: Biased to Grassroots

  • Cities of Salt by Abdelrahman Munif
  • Women of Sand and Myrrh by Hanan al-Shaykh
  • Dreams of Trespass by Fatima Mernissi
  • Orientalism by Edward Said
  • Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks.
  • The Discussion Leader was Ginny

    Authors who've participated in Books discussions
  • Ginny
    July 31, 1998 - 05:38 am
    I must admit to quailing a bit as we embark on our first Nobel Laureate author. Am a bit uncertain, for one thing, on how to divide up the book for discussion: have had several emails requesting a leisurely pace, but the month's discussion does not leave much room for a couple of chapters at a time.

    So I think the first order of business is to decide how long we want to spend discussing this book. We really, if we adhere to a one month schedule, only have 3 weeks, and I've outlined what I think is THAT schedule immediately below). Please, as you login and post here, indicate what you'd like in terms of the schedule for this one.

    It seemed logical to me to take the first 26 chapters in the first week, in which the setting is unveiled and the characters begin to reveal themselves and their environs. It seemed to me that Chapter 27 contained one of several pivotal events in the book, so thought that breaking right before that would be a good place to pause.

    You, however, may want to stretch this out over two months. Do let us know what you think.

    I've got a lot to say on this one. So many elements of the book seemed strange, not only in the settings and mind set of the characters, but in the language translation itself. Several times I was brought up short by the word "shouted." It seemed the characters were always shouting at each other when shouting wasn't indicated. This made me pause over the translation, as the book was originally written in Arabic, and I'm wondering about some of the stilted phrases and I'm also wondering if we're getting the real flavor of what was written.

    BUT let's not put the cart before the horse.

    Since we don't have a leader in this discussion, but just react to each other, I'm interested in what you preceive to be the character of the father in this piece, Al-Sayyid (what does that mean?) Ahmad Abd al-Jawad. I love the repetition of his full name in the text.

    "Al-Sayyid commented angrily, 'Manners are better than learning,' Then turning toward Kamal, he continued sharply: 'Hear that, you son of a bitch.'" (page 20).

    I think this line fully delineates many of the puzzling aspects of the father's attitude for me. So I'd like to start with your opinions of the father. Does he appear hypocritical in these first few chapters? Does he have a special dislike for his youngest son., and if so, can you tell why?? Does he, in fact, consider women a lesser class of people?What did you make of Al-Sayyid Ahmad??


    Roslyn Stempel
    August 1, 1998 - 06:29 am
    Ginny, I believe that Al-Sayyid can be translated as "Mister," and the constant use of this honorific seems to suggest the touch of remoteness and respect which we should regard this man. The naming practices are partially explained in the Arabic links.

    As to the language, it seems to me that the translators tried to retain the flavor of "classic Arabic" which Mafouz, like most writers of the time, used for his writing regardless of the social status of his characters.

    I too was a bit taken aback by "son of a bitch," but then I remembered that in countless earlier readings of fiction with a mid-Eastern setting I had seen "son of a dog" used. I was more comfortable with that, possibly as it is somewhat gender-free.

    In terms of his religious views, which affect his behavior toward his family, the father is of the Hanbali persuasion, the most rigidly traditional of the four Shi'i views and the one which might be called fundamentalist because everything was based on the actual words of the Prophet rather than on later interpretations.

    Quite early on, Mafouz states that the father's explosive and tyrannical behavior at home vis-a-vis his family served as a kind of safety valve that permitted him to maintain his jovial and beneficent manner to the rest of the world.

    I have found it easier, in reading and thinking about this book, to play the role of observer rather than that of judge. Certainly one can discover many similarities between these characters and people we have known; however, for me to concentrate on my Aunt Minnie and Cousin Herman would diminish my opportunity to grasp the subtleties of the author's plot and style as well as the picture he gives us of a certain distinctive culture at a certain specific time in the past.

    The period covered in the novel, October 1917 to April 1919, was a politically crucial time. At the outset there are only the faintest rumblings of disturbing events outside the streets of this Egyptian ghetto in a Western-controlled Cairo. As the novel continues the noise of outside disturbances increases until it can no longer be shut out.


    August 1, 1998 - 01:18 pm
    Hi everyone! I love the way this book is written, and the way the author develops the personalities of the characters. I would like to spend more time with this book. I would like to spend two months on this.

    We need to look into the mindset of Amina. I am in awe of the way she is happy and loving in her submissiveness. We need to spend time looking into the religious belief and other customs of the country and religion.


    Eileen Megan
    August 1, 1998 - 02:31 pm
    I haven't finished reading the book yet so I don't know whether Al-Sayyid Ahmad ever gets his comuppance but . . . .

    Tyrannical husbands and fathers, are to be found everywhere, even in this day and age. From various stories in the news about "Desert Storm", the treatment of women in the Arab countries hasn't changed all that much.

    I think Al-Sayyid Ahmad was absolutely convinced his behavior was "correct" - tough at home and charming elsewhere - it would never occur to him that he was being hypocritical. What a thoroughly obnoxious man!

    Eileen Megan

    August 1, 1998 - 06:56 pm
    It's hard for me to imagine that Amina could be as content in her subservient atmosphere... But she came to Al-Sayyid Ahmad as a very, very young bride, and she had been brought up in a similar home.  True, her life was much more restricted than some other women, but her religion dictated her responses to her tyrannical husband.

    Al-Sayyid Ahmad seemed to work at being as dominating and ruthless as a father, as he could be.

    Megan: He gets his comeuppance in the next book Palace of Desire

    August 2, 1998 - 04:21 am
    I think this is marvelous, such insightful posts! I went back over each post and you've all made such interesting points, want to list them here: (do keep in mind I'm not the leader, I'll be your recording secretary as we read).

    Ros identified several aspects: the use of "Al Sayyid" denoting "Mister," the repetition of which seems to lend remoteness and respect, the religious influence of the Hanbali, a sect? of the Shi'i (Ros, can you elaborate on this a bit? What, in short, do they believe about the place of the man in the household)? She also mentioned the historical background which runs as a concurrent theme, eventually overwhelming this family.

    Sandy mentiond the mindset of Amina, the "life of perfect service" which she seems to be obeying and to be happy in. But is she happy? I agree we need to look further into her thinking.

    Megan mentioned that "Al-Sayyid Ahmad was absolutely convinced his behavior was 'correct'- tough at home and charming elsewhere - it would never occur to him that he was being hypocritical," and found him "obnoxious." This is particularly interesting in the light of what happens later in the book, I think.

    Pat has read the sequel, bringing in other works of Mahfouz (fabulous!!) and points out the cultural and religious factors which cause Amina to be submissive to her husband.

    And I was struck by the irony in the "son of a bitch/ dog" remarks. Whether a dog or a bitch, certainly that is a term of derision, and making the remark at all is to ME the height of poor manners, and doesn't belong in a lecture on the importance of manners.

    So, I'd say we've done pretty well for an opening day, as we've identified some elements we'd like to pursue: the various aspects of

  • historical background
  • cultural influences
  • religious dictates
  • character
  • irony, style: language
  • other literary references

    That's pretty good for a first day.

    It's exciting to me to find that we'll, through our group meetings, get more out of this than we may have individually. I'm going to post a list in the heading which we can add to as we go on, and as we individually bring different things to the table for everyone to enjoy.

    May we take this over a two month period? I've seen one vote Yea. If we do, that means we would now be looking at pages 1-82. I know there are others hurrying to join us, what do you say?

    I think there's a lot to say about these first pages, if we decide to go that way. We learn, for instance, that Al Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad never got beyond primary school in his education (page 37) but has self educated himself "from reading newspapers and befriending an elite group of gentry...," and "The love, respect, and honor these fine people bestowed on him doubled his pride."

    Again, here we must pause.

    Pride seems an element in this man's life. He's very careful to preserve, as Megan said, what seems to us to be a hypocritical face.

    But PRIDE is one of the "seven deadly sins," in Catholicism, is it not? So is our confusion here one of religion or culture?

    What are we to make of these first pages? How can we relate to any of the characters? Do we need to be able to relate to them at all?

    Megan calls the father "obnoxious." What is you opinion of him in these first 82 pages, if that's the way we're going? What is your opinion of Amina? Let's talk character if you'd like, with all the other influences on it.

  • Ginny
    August 2, 1998 - 04:31 am
    Please note the changing of the Suggested Topics for Discussion in the heading.


    August 2, 1998 - 12:12 pm
    Some of you have finished the book and some are well into it while others (like myself) are going at a slower pace. I agree with Sandy in that I also would appreciate spending more time on it, as it presents a formidible amount of reading time especially for a summer book. However,I will surely go along with the majority and do the best I can with whatever time is alloted.

    Amina was no more than a child when she was married to her husband. It is reported to the reader that in their first year of marriage she tried to ,"venture a polite objection to his repeated nights out". His response was to seize her by the ears and scream the rules to her. "I'm a man. I'm the one who commands and forbids. I will not accept any criticism of my behavior. All I ask of you is to obey me. Don't force me to discipline you."

    Amina goes on to learn from her husband's "lessons" to accept and adapt to everything. We know that an overwhelming part of this is cultural and would probably seem acceptable to a woman of her times. To most of us it seems archaic. I have questions as to what Amina is really like, where she puts her deepest feelings, hopes and dreams. Are feelings of jealousy natural or learned? What about the need to be appreciated, to feel loved? Cultural or nature?

    If I think of it cast in a modern day context and compare the life of a newly married woman living in the 50's in America compared with today, the contrast is startling. Most of us have lived through the revolution and the continuing evolution of woman's place both in society at large and in her family, and I am part of it as I imagine a great many of you out there are as well. Even though I never lived in anything like the world of Amina (I would have killed him first) when I think of the changes in women's roles between now and then it allows for me to begin to understand the place of women in that society at that time. I realize that this is more than just a piece of fiction. I also know only too well that there are women in our culture who still lead lives of quiet desperation with husband who tyrannize them. How much has the culture evolved In Egypt during these many years? I suspect not much…but I really don't know.

    What do you think about Mahfouz and his understanding of women? I don't have a good feeling for it yet. I am not that far along. More questions than answers.

    I loved the description of the running of the house hold. I can visualize it as I go along especially the early morning in the house as it comes awake. The dough alarm, the children…evoke some lovely,colorful images.

    Oh yes, there was something that struck me as quite positive. They liked their women fattened up. Now there's a plus for me.

    Eileen Megan
    August 2, 1998 - 02:31 pm
    Pat, thanks for letting me know justice will prevail! Although none of the other men's home lives are gone into in any detail, I did not get the impression that they were as domineering as Al . . .

    Helen, oh yes, I appreciated the fact that a woman whose rump extended over the sides of the seat she was sitting on was considered sexy and desirable!

    Eileen Megan

    August 2, 1998 - 02:44 pm
     They liked their women fattened up.  Helen: I too can identify with that.

    As a student at U of IL, my sorority house was next to International House.. We became quite well acquainted with the that lived there.  I especially knew Talat Tili, from Cairo.. He was 25 and had 2 wives at home and was looking for an American girl to take home.  He had little regard for anyone's feelings but his own, but soon learned that if he was going to convince someone to marry him, he'd have to change his ways.  A very charming, handsome, wealthy, (had his own Caddilac on campus) and brilliant student, he graduated from Engineering School and took back one of my sorority sisters.. Carrie and Talat still live in Cairo and the other two wives are gone... She has raised her own 2 children and 5 others from his previous wives. We still correspond, but when I hint of a visit, I get little response.

    August 3, 1998 - 08:04 am
    PAT!! Oh, how I wish you could be able to put, ever so gently, some of our questions to her, and see what she'd say? Would you be willing to try?

    I'd think in that instance, you'd have to word it very very carefully, just in case she DID happen to be living in similar circumstances?

    Oh I think that would be marvelous.

    Since we've now had three people express the desire to go at a slow pace, let's take pages 1-82 this first week, and look into all the things we've mentioned.

    Helen, you know there ARE people living like that today, even in America. Here we call it spousal abuse, there it was apparently the accepted way of life. Yet...yet I still remember the Shah of Iran's gorgeous wife in tears at one of his careless and tasteless remarks. For all his love for her, for all she did for the women of her country, even then, he fell back into the old Kabuki dance of his culture, and wounded her to tears.

    I agree about the wonderful mind pictures of the bread in the morning. I think of it, as a matter of fact, each morning. I think this may be a great book. Certainly our reactions to it have been great. I've put up Helen's questions above as Recording Secretary, for everybody's input.

    Megan: I had the same reaction, the same feelings: wanted to kill him. That's why what happens later in the book surprised me.

    I agree, how DID Mahrouz get into the minds of the women so well? Or did he??

    I thought I was watching a movie of Palace Walk the other day, family at table, mother waiting on table, sons revering father, but it was Anthony Quinn in a biography of Aristotle Onassis. I have a feeling this man/ woman thing goes further than the religious dictates of Egypt.

    Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on Amina: how she could justify her life to herself, and on al-Sayyid Ahmad and his seemingly hypocritical life.


    Jo Meander
    August 3, 1998 - 09:54 am
    Tried to post before --ejected by Cybergod. I pray this is going to be two months! The material is so rich and the posts are nearly as good as the book! Two months would give me a fighting chance. Later!

    Roslyn Stempel
    August 3, 1998 - 10:36 am
    Ginny and Helen, the discussion questions are good. I have found that I didn't react emotionally at all to the depiction of Amina's position in her household. Instead I noted the rather mysterious way in which she is introduced in the opening pages, as "she" rather than as an individual. It is her viewpoint that brings us into the story. Only gradually are other characters given a voice.

    It occurred to me that when this book appeared in 1956 the portrayal of the family might have struck a note of nostalgic familiarity for adult Egyptian (or Cairene) readers who perhaps recognized, in the busy homemaker, the protected daughters, the less confined sons, the magisterial father, a prototype of the nuclear family of the 1910's, perhaps the family of their mothers or grandmothers.

    I don't find the women "more dependable" than the men. As the story develops, and even more clearly in the succeeding novels, the women are just as erratic and unreliable as the men.

    Reading a complex novel is a bit like playing a game: The author has established the rules. If I follow Mahfouz'z rules, I will accept his description of Amina's adaptation to the conditions of her marriage, noting that this is somewhat outside my expectations. I will accept the duality of Ahmad's behavior inside and outside his home, while noting that he doesn't seem to be a lovable character. I will observe the children as Mahfouz has drawn them, and wait until later to see how each one develops, remembering that children change. (I recognize that this is only way way of reacting to a novel, and that it's not necessarily the one that other BC readers prefer. It just happens to be one with which I am comfortable; and I hope for your understanding.)

    I have spent a little time hunting on the Web and among our reference books at home, looking for clues, in the Quran, for example, that would explain the father's behavior. The Holy Book is filled with admonitions to women, though (since there is not much detail) it would seem that much of the ritual and many of the restrictions are the result of interpretations of the surahs rather than simply adherence to the words.

    Mahfouz tells us that Ahmad was a "Hanbali conservative" but I couldn't find anything beyond the brief statement that I quoted earlier to explain just where this took him.


    Eileen Megan
    August 3, 1998 - 02:02 pm
    In answer to one of Helen's questions: "How real do you think this book is?" Since the author is apparently very popular in the Arab world, I can only assume that his is an accurate portrayal of the life and times of this period. Apparently he is not all that popular with Islamic fundamentalists though, since according to a summary of the book in Barnes & Noble, there was a recent assassination attempt on his life.

    I have always been fascinated by different cultures. For instance, Pearl Buck, Lin Yutang and Amy Tan have given me many interesting insights into the Chinese character. Michener's "The Source" gave me a much deeper understanding of the history of the Jews and the state of Israel. I hope by the time I finish this book I can say the same for Mahfouz.

    Eileen Megan

    Jo Meander
    August 3, 1998 - 06:06 pm
    Khadija is quite different from her mother --not as gentle, quicker to express displeasure or itrritation, especially with her romantic little sister who is about to get into trouble, I'm sure. The women are all alike, so far, in what seems to be a glad acceptance of their duty to the males. Khadija sternly reminds Aisha that "this is the home of an honorable man. there would be nothing wrong with his daughters having voices like donkeys, but it's a disgrace for them to be nothing but pretty pictures of no use or value."
    When the men leave the house, all the women watch them through the screen, which is intended to keep them hidden from the eyes of the world. The seem to be looking with love, loyalty and admiration -- hard for us to understand, in the case of the husband/father, but I accept it as cultural fact and I really want to see where this leads.

    Jo Meander
    August 3, 1998 - 06:26 pm
    Amina accepts a condition she regards as sinful -- her husband's intoxication. She has not changed her mind; she enjoys the way he coommunicates with her when he comes home in this state because his discussions with her make her feel almost as if she is truly his partner. In spite of her apparent acceptance of his treatment, she must feel conflict over the way he usually treats her or ignores her when he is sober.
    It's also interesting that Ahmad Abd al-Jawad guards carefully against allowing his wife to see him smile or relax his stern, autocratic bearing in any way. What does he fear?

    August 4, 1998 - 04:13 am
    JO: What a good question! What good points, All! I'm going out of town this morning, you've certainly given me something to chew over.

    Ros: Totally missed the "she" references, I love your take on we're in HIS hands, it's under Mahfouz's control.

    When you combine that with Jo's observation of them looking out at the world thru a screen, we can see Mahfouz is deliberately placing a screen in front of them in our minds, too. That's almost thrilling to realize.

    Will think on that question all day: what is he afraid of? How clever of you to hit on FEAR as his motivation! Right off the top of my head, I'd say he's afraid she won't respect him as the great man he swells himself up to be if she sees him laugh, but then, she's seen him in what they regard as "sin," under intoxication.

    And I do hate to say this, but I have seen al-Sayyid Ahmad in another country in another guise.

    Megan: I really would like to know more about the assassination attempt! He must have said a LOT in the subsequent books! Or else there are just a lot of nuts out there. It's funny you should mention Pearl Buck, as I was constantly thinking of her as I read this book, it's very similar in scope and richness, I think.

    In the book Princess we read in the Non Fiction Book Group, there were some sample laws of the Koran printed as to dress, but they applied in a general way to men and women, and as Ros has said, seem to have been interpreted differently, or, in my opinion, "all amiss interpreted."

    Excuse my profound ignorance, but what general sect IS Hanbali? Are they Muslims? If so, I do have parts of the Koran I can print here?

    For once and for all I will enjoy sorting out some of the religions of the regions. Ginny

    Marge Stockton
    August 4, 1998 - 07:05 am
    Hi, folks. I'm just lurking here. Read Palace Walk years ago, agree it's a great book, don't have time to read it again right now, nor do I recall details enough to discuss intelligently. But I agree with Roslyn's approach. Our paradigm for role of women and families in America at the end of the century might as well be Martian for all its applicability to traditional Muslim culture in the Arab world in early years of century. To apply our assumptions and expectations for how Amina and her daughters behave is to miss the point. And I do recall some pretty unexpected developments later in the book. Have not read the succeeding volumes, although they are buried somewhere on my "waiting to be read" shelves.

    August 4, 1998 - 06:58 pm
    Ginny: Oh, how I wish you could be able to put, ever so gently, some of our questions to her, and see what she'd say? Would you be willing to try? If you have specific questions let me know... Carrie generally writes at Christmas... Her family is grown and I think one daughter married an American, but lives in Cairo... I think she may have had contacts with the American community over there.

    August 5, 1998 - 09:23 am
    Pat, let's DO ! How kind of you to say you will. What questions do we have that we can ask Pat to inquire of her friend? After all, if she currently LIVES in Cairo, she'll have plenty of first hand knowledge on the state of women today.

    I'll put the questions up in the top header, and Pat can select any or all she'd feel comfortable asking.

    Of course, my first question would have to be on the current status of women. Are they, in fact, kept at home? Out of sight of other men? Or are they allowed to venture out alone? Do they have to wear (why do I want to say purdah? I can't find it in the book? I'm also wondering if your friend feels free to travel alone throughout the city or if she has any restrictions? That would be my first "question."

    Am going off to try to find out something about the religion of Egypt, but just want to say that I like Ros's and Marge's approach to the book, reread the first section yesterday, and can't help noticing the little things Mahfouz puts in to suggest that, perhaps ALL in Amina's life is not quite as serene as she'd like.

    In fact, I felt sorry for the poor woman, wistfully yearning for the dream world she can barely see from her rooftop garden, (pp. 34-35). Even then "she was neither resentful nor discontented, quite the opposite. All the same..." she'd wonder about the world she saw forbidden to her. Now who can't react to that?

    Meanwhile, al-Sayyid finds that his bon mots have made him popular, which, in turn means a great deal to him: "He recalled his clever remarks with a care and attention accented by wonder and self-satisfaction. He remembered their effect on people and the success and ddelight they occasioned, making him everyone's best feiend...He often felt the role he played at these parties was so signigicant that it was practically the ultimate anyone could hope for in life." (page 10). I'm going to try to keep all the characters separate. I admit I don't have a "feel" for some of the children, not as much as I do the parents, anyway. And Yasin's mother came as a total shock to me.

    It's also interesting that Mahfouz tells us that when al-Sayyid who prizes himself on being everyone's best friend, leaves his own house, "Everyone greeted it with a relief that was innocent rather than reprehensible, like a prisoner's satisfaction on hearing the clatter of chains being unfastened from his hands and feet. Each knew he would shortly regain his liberty to talke, laugh, sing, and do many other things free from danger." (p.22)

    So this appears to be a complex conundrum. They are content, happy, religious, yet glad to see him go, and the simile used was of a prisoner's loosening his chains. Mahfouz himself has chosen to present these people to us in this way. It suddenly struck me this morning that Mahfouz himself may be trying to strip the preconceived notions his readers may have away from what he perceives to be the facts of such a life, and maybe that's why his receiving the Nobel Prize was not so well thought of in some Egyptian quarters.

    I can't get much of a handle on the children at all, think Yasin expecially is hard to understand. What do you think, and why does poor Kamal always seem to get his Father's wrath more than the others?

    And what other questions can we ask Pat's friend in Egypt?


    August 5, 1998 - 10:23 am
    Boy talk about ,'the plot thickens". There are so many areas of interest for me in this piece of literature. The further on I read the more questions and other input I seem to need. I've even found the Koran on line and find myself reading bits of it to get the flavor.

    I have questions about the Shaykh and his role. He is a holy man, a teacher, a medicine man of sorts, considered to be very educated. I noticed that Amina's father was a Shaykh and she considered him to absolutely the smartest there was. Being raised in such a home may have more than a little to do with her faith as described in the story. He was highly educated and her respect for him knew no bounds. What did you think of the confrontation between the Shaykh and Ahmad?

    I was fascinated and confused in reading about Kamal's circumcision day. It is well know that many people of all faiths have their boy babies circumcised for reasons of hygiene, etc. In the Jewish religion , in a religiously observant family, baby boy's are circumcised on the eighth day after their birth…not before. It is considered an entry into Jewish faith. It is usually done with friends and family standing by,a celebration. Over in a matter of seconds, the baby cries and is fine almost immmediately.

    I was kind of surprised and pained to learn that Kamal's circumcision took place when he was already a young boy when it would indeed be an extremely painful ordeal. He talks about how sweet and loving his father had been to him up until that time. He reports that even on the day of the ritual he tried to make it better by showering him with candies,smothering him with kisses. And then it all changed…<fontcolor=blue>Affection turned to severity, tender conversations to shouts, and fondling to blows. He had even made the circumcision itself a means for terrifying the boy. For a long time Kamal had been confused and had thought it possible they might inflict the same fate on what he had left.> Why? Was this his induction into manhood? Did the father think he had to treat him severely now that he was a man,(ritually anyway)? Any thoughts or knowledge about this. Would love to know.

    I took the following out of some info. on the world of Islam from the internet. 4. Age for male and female circumcision

    Jurists are not unanimous regarding the age at which circumcision should be carried out. Different opinions are presented: any time; at puberty; before 10 years of age (the age when one has often to hit the child to force him to pray); at about 7 years for the boy; on the seventh day (some take the day of birth into consideration, others not); especially not on the seventh day or before (because it is a Jewish custom and one does not want to be put in the same category with them). Al-Mawardi suggests that circumcision be done at 7 years of age at the latest, but preferably at 7 days or at 40 days, except in case of inconvenience. That is Al-Sukkari's opinion for the boys. For the girls, he suggests the age of 7 to 10 years, to help them cope with the procedure[88].

    Well that's it for today. I'm off. Once again more questions,but at least I have finally caught up with the reading and am even a little bit ahead. If we picked up all the strands…enough, see you another day.

    August 5, 1998 - 10:34 am
    Hi Ginny,

    Just caught your post. This one really makes one hit the books doesn't it? So much I don't know and want to learn. I guess thats the fascination with this particular story. This world is so unknown to me. Wish I had read it before I went to Israel; could have found out alot more.

    I couldn't agree with you more about Kamal. I don't get it. Will I get it by the time I've read the whole book.

    Have written to my friend who went on to Egypt to see if she comes up with anything.


    Eileen Megan
    August 5, 1998 - 01:59 pm
    Ginny, here's Webster's New World Dictionary for: Purdah 1.A curtain or veil used by some Hindus and Moslems to seclude or hide their women from strangers. 2. the practice of secluding or hiding women in this way.

    I'm sure most of us have seen women in the Arab countries swathed in clothes from head to toe - I would guess the "fundamentalist" Moslems adhere to the old customs of keeping their women "under wraps".

    Eileen Megan

    August 5, 1998 - 06:44 pm
    Ginny: I'll get a letter off tomorrow... and hope I get an answer of some sort, even if it is a non-answer.

    August 6, 1998 - 05:18 pm
    Pat, how wonderful, this, in my opinion, is one of the true benefits of an ONLINE Book Club...we've got such interesting people with such interesting things to bring to the table. I can't wait to see what she answers. You might want to ask her if she's heard of Mahfouz and how he's thought of in Cairo? There's a difference between what people officially "say" and what the man in the street thinks. And she may have heard some of that. This is so exciting, I think!

    And Megan, "purdah" seems to be accurate, then. I must find out the main religion of Egypt. If it IS the Koran, I've got the rules which pertain to dress, and they don't say what we all think.

    And Helen, what a fab post, and you have a friend there, too. Do write, where was I when all these exciting contacts were passed out? Oh well, I've got YOU, and we're (the Book Groups) all soon to appear in the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, so, hey! ARE we or are we not fabulous??

    I think in answer to Helen's thoughts in the heading above, I'd have to say that I'm really surprised at Mahfouz's understanding of the women in the story so far. I feel like I "know" Amina, feel less sure of the ugly or big nosed older sister, think the pretty sister is really just a front or an image, found Kamal and Fahmy the most understandable of the men, was totally confused by Yasin, both in his description and in his mother, and found myself stopping to think when Amina addressed Fahmy as "Sir." That stopped me in my tracks.

    Also was glad to see the word "shaykh" spelled that way instead of "shiek" or are they two different things? The Shiek of Araby? But I now understand it's pronounced shaykh and I like that spelling.

    I thought Helen once again defined a key point: the interview of the shaykh with Abd al-Jawad. We've already seen that al-Jawad prizes his popularity above all, and belongs to a religious family, so it's a bit of a shock to have his faults laid out for us so early on (page 40). Now WHY did Mahfouz do this, I wonder?? He also identifies al-Jawad as a Muslim!! I just saw that! He's a Muslim!! We've learned he's short of education, having "never finished primary school," (page 37), but that he reads the newspapers and befriends an "elete group of gentry."

    Pages 41 nd 42 neatly outline al-Jawad's thought processes, ending with the statement that "he found himself more distressed by thinking (of the accusation of being a drinker) than by the accusation itself....Thought, however, was a burden, and revealed how trivial his knowledge of his religion was." Mahfouz has just revealed the thinking of a very complex man. It's almost like a child who has been denied nothing, and who can't understand that he might be called to account for something or for doing something wrong.

    This is a very good book.


    August 6, 1998 - 05:20 pm
    AND the circumcision stuff was totally horrifying. How can anybody justify that, I have no clue. At that point, I have to recoil in horror.


    Charlotte J. Snitzer
    August 7, 1998 - 09:19 am
    Hi all:

    Just got the book from the library and also an email that B and N will be sending it along. Will be with you soon.

    What happened with Hard Times? I hope you won't all fugedaboutit.


    August 8, 1998 - 08:14 am
    Charoltte: so GLAD to see you here! Looking forward to your always astute comments!

    Well, here we are at the end of our first week of Palace Walk .

    What do you think so far? What's your first reaction to the book? Does it live up to all the hoopla you've heard about it?

    It reminds me so much of Pearl Buck's China writings. You're thrown right in right from the first in an alien culture (at least it is to me) with alien customs, and the sights and sounds of Palace Walk itself.

    I find myself wondering if the title means anything special?

    IS there, in fact, a Palace? Maybe I missed that.

    I guess I'd have to say in these first 82 pages that the bread making stands out as background for me, and I'm intrigued by the seeming inconstancies Mahfouz allows us to see in the main two characters: the mother and the father. Both religious, both strictly, in their own minds, adhering to the principles of that religion. Are both succeeding?

    What's your FIRST reaction here?


    Roslyn Stempel
    August 8, 1998 - 09:43 am
    Ginny, the Arabic title of the book is Bayn al-Qasrayn, literally "between the two palaces," and refers to a street that actually ran between the Great Eastern Palace and the Little Western Palace built as part of a fortified enclave to the north of existing Cairo (Kahira) at the end of the 10th century. The builder was Gawhaz, a former slave who became a general in the army of the caliph Mu'iz and who conquered Egypt in the name of the caliph. The district still remains, modern Cairo having grown up around it. This was "old, old Cairo," in a sense, where the family lived, surrounded by historic buildings and clinging to tradition. Many of the place-names in the novel, such as mosques, schools, and streets, can be found on maps and in guidebooks about modern Egypt. The titles of the other two novels in the trilogy, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street, are also real places, but I think they refer in Mahfouz's writing to the expansion of the family connection beyond the secluded house where the story begins.

    The pace of this book is painfully slow and I would encourage a little enlightened skipping when it begins to seem unpardonably dull. Don't skip anything with Arabic names or terms, they might be important. Read speedily through those interminable interior monologues. (These get much worse in the second book.) You might suddenly find that something actually happened in those pages -- just back-pedal until you find it. ( That was the only way I could get through some of Joseph Conrad's novels because he introduced action so subtly that I hardly noticed it.)

    Yes, the bread-making is a powerful symbol; notice how firmly Mahfouz brings in the unmistakable sound and introduces us to the domestic routine, while adding subliminally our own thoughts about the fragrance of rising dough and baking loaves, and then the fragrance of coffee, and that fascinating breakfast menu ... from which we catch a glimpse of Ahmad's gluttony and the reaction of his sons as they wait hungrily for him to appease his appetite. By this time we've perceived how different each of the three sons is, and how each incorporates some aspect of the father, and the typical love-hate attitude of growing children toward the parent. We're also waiting eagerly for Amina and the daughters to be able to sit down to breakfast, and we perceive the changes in the climate of the house as the tyrannical image of the father recedes and the sons go out to their daily contact with the outside world. What a lot he has told us -- much of it indirectly.

    If you have traveled that route within a household from early childhood through adolescence and adulthood, to the point of independence, marriage, parenthood, grandparenthood, and old age, I think every detail of these opening pages must resonate with you and make the foundation for appreciating the story Mahfouz wants to tell.


    Katie Jaques
    August 8, 1998 - 02:10 pm
    I trust that by now everyone is clear that the religious framework of the novel is Islam. Hanbali is the strictest of the four schools of Islamic religious thought. The term "Muslim" refers to a follower of Islam; it means, literally, one who submits to God's will and laws. The religion is Islam; the adherent is a Muslim.

    The name of the servant woman, Umm Hanafi, is an honorific called a Kunya name. "Umm" means mother, and "Hanafi" is the name of her eldest son. Amina's Kunya name would be Umm Fahmy; Yasin is older, but he is not her son.

    Khadija and Aisha are both named after wives of the Prophet, Muhammad. The names evidently are commonly used, like Mary, but their use by Mahfouz for these particular characters is interesting if you know a little of their origin. The original Khadija was Muhammad's first wife. She was a wealthy Meccan businesswoman ten years his senior, and hired him as a manager for her international trading company. Meccan women ordinarily did not propose marriage to men, but Khadija had the clout to do it. She brought him money, status, and four daughters, his only children to survive infancy. The Ayatolla Ruholla Khomeini, King Hussein of Jordan, and all the sheiks (shaykhs) and mullahs who wear the black turban trace their lineage to one of these daughters. Khadija was Muhammad's only wife for 24 years. She was never veiled or secluded and in fact was a very powerful person.

    Muhammad married Aisha (which means "life" in Arabic) after Khadija's death in 619, when she was six years old and he was 50. The marriage was consummated three years later. Aisha was a key player in the split between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims after Muhammad's death, and is venerated by the Sunnis but not by the Shiites. After Muhammad married Aisha he married several other women in rapid succession. However, she was the love of his later life, and he died in her arms and was buried in her room when she was 19.

    After Muhammad's death Aisha's father, Abu Bakr, was named caliph, or successor to the prophet. Muhammad's daughter Fatima believed that her husband, Ali, was Muhammad's choice to succeed him. While Ali himself was prepared to accept Abu Bakr's leadership, Fatima stubbornly held out, and her followers became the Shiite faction of Islam, still a separate group.

    Obviously the characters in Palace Walk are Sunni, not Shiite, Muslims, since Shiites would never name a girl Aisha. The Shiites are about 9% of all Muslims. They are a large majority in Iran, a narrow majority in Iraq, Dubai and Bahrain. Elsewhere they have historically been a disadvantaged minority.

    Jo asked what Ahmad is afraid of. I think he is afraid of loss of control. Everything is fine as long as his family is under his strict control, and he is free to do whatever he wants. Notice, however, that he is reliable in many ways. He goes out and carouses with his friends and mistresses, but he always comes home and he always tends his store. It seems to me that Mahfouz does not judge Ahmad, but simply tries to explain him. This is the way he is. His life is compartmentalized in his mind and the one thing he fears is that the compartments might leak into one another and he would lose control.

    "Purdah" is a Hindi word and refers to the veiling and seclusion of women in India. The Arabic term is "hijab," which literally means a curtain. In recent years, due to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in many Muslim countries (especially Iran and Iraq), women who were thoroughly Westernized, even educated in the U.S., have been forced into hijab; some of them have accepted it willingly for religious reasons.

    The source for most of the foregoing information is Geraldine Brooks's book of essays, "Nine Parts of Desire." I strongly recommend it as supplementary reading.

    August 8, 1998 - 02:44 pm
    Roz: Good advice on how to read the book... you're right some parts are a struggle... But I tend to skip too fast sometimes and have to go back as you suggested.

    Katie J.: Great background material.. Thanks.

    August 8, 1998 - 06:05 pm
    KATIE! WHAT a fabulous post, I learned so much, knew nothing, and have just gotten the Nine Parts of Desire in the mail, so will begin immediately.

    What a good group.


    August 8, 1998 - 06:11 pm
    ROSLYN! Just saw YOUR post, what a pleasure to look in here, learn something new every minute. Thanks so much for that background, isn't this great?? So there WAS a Palace, TWO in fact. The simplicity of the book is taking on lots of new meaning with every post here, for me.

    Love it!

    Looking forward to next week's events,


    Eileen Megan
    August 9, 1998 - 08:29 am
    I finally finished the book and have revised my orginal opinion to some extent. Someone suggested reading the book objectively which is good advice since I think I tended to be very subjective and judgemental about the father's ways.

    Thanks to Ros and Katie J. for the interesting background material they supplied - fascinating.

    Eileen Megan

    Roslyn Stempel
    August 9, 1998 - 08:55 am
    Katie, thanks for the useful information and for directing our attention to Nine Parts of Desire. I'm embarrassed to realize that I had been calling the family Shi'ite instead of Sunni, which they obviously were. I'd been telling myself I should just go and hunt for a Comparative Religion textbook in some second-hand bookstore, but think I'll check out Brooks instead.


    Marge Stockton
    August 9, 1998 - 10:09 am
    Just a note from the "lurker in the background"...I must say I'm regularly astonished at the level of education / knowledge / understanding of the folks who post in these book forums! I'm curious how Ros and Katie came to be so knowledgeable. Will check out the Brooks book. One comment...about a decade ago I worked on a project with some professional colleagues from Saudi Arabia. I remember being told that the Muslim "rules" for dress and behavior of women was based on religious tradition, but not on specific commandments set out in the Koran.

    August 9, 1998 - 02:16 pm
    "I'm regularly astonished at the level of education / knowledge / understanding of the folks who post in these book forums! "

    Marge.... You are so right... I have learned more about literature here in the last 2 years, than I learned in 8 years of high school and college

    Katie Jaques
    August 9, 1998 - 04:57 pm
    In the exchange between the Shaykh and Ahmad, I was struck by the almost "pro forma" nature of the Shakh's accusations and Ahmad's responses. It was almost as if this was a ritual confrontation whereby the Shaykh expressed his disapproval of Ahmad's behavior, Ahmad expressed his faith in God, and the Shaykh obtained his gift -- which is what he had really come for. Nothing is going to change as a result of this dialogue.

    The exchange points up the duality of Ahmad's nature. He truly doesn't believe God would deny him his pleasures. He believes in God and goes through the formal motions of his religion with joy and piety, but he doesn't have a sophisticated understanding of what it means.

    I believe many Christians display a similar form-over-substance approach to religion. Some of our more notorious evangelists come to mind ... remember Jim Bakker? Ahmad's obsession with control is also familiar in Western culture. Obviously there is a strong religious and cultural underpinning to Ahmad's character, but many people in other religions and cultures are just as hypocritical. I see Ahmad's failings as human, rather than specifically Muslim or Arabic.

    August 10, 1998 - 04:59 am
    Wonderful, wonderful posts, as ever. Marge, how nice to "see" you lurking! Do plan to post more!

    Had an awful time getting in here.

    I like your take on the ritual pro forma discussion between Ahmad and the shaykh, Katie, had forgotten the gift, I like that. Almost like self flagellation? Mea culpa, mea culpa, pass the potatoes. But that's the way, as you point out, a lot of us are.

    I was actually coming in to say that I feared Elmer Gantry didn't have enough votes to be the December selection, but your remarks stopped me cold. Now wouldn't it be great to compare the two?

    On the control issue, I think behind every control freak is something else. In other words, I think "control" is just a symptom of a deeper fear, anybody else agree?

    BECAUSE of Katie's remarks, am struggling mightily to FTP the religious background up into the heading for a reference for us all.

    Helen: have you got that site where we can read the Koran handy? I do remember reading the stuff about dress, and it applied to women as well as men, and the interpretation is obvious, they say nothing about all those veils and stockings, Marge, you are right, and the rules apply to men, too.

    What a fabulous discussion, back later today with this week's thoughts, keep watching the heading and holding your breaths!

    Roslyn: Thinking about a "man's home being his castle," is it pushing a bit to say some symbolism is being applied here?


    August 10, 1998 - 06:41 am
    Hi All,

    Thanks so much for the wonderful background info. Katie and Ros. It adds so much richness and understanding to my reading. It's easy to see that this particular book can eassily go on for two months. I have some interesting background on Mahfouz.

    Ginny: Don't have time right now to put this into HTML (cause I never know if it is going to take or not) but hopefully I have the URL for you on the Koran.

    The Koran

    I was absolutely stunned by Amina's walk and her husband's maniacal response to her actions. How much of this I wonder finds it's seed in his first marriage.

    So much to talk about.

    August 10, 1998 - 08:01 am
    Hey, Helen, at least one of us is on the ball! We'll have to await the coming of Larry who will come in fresh from his classes in teaching Computer at the Learning Center in Atlanta to confront my lasest fisaco.

    You will tell when he gets in, as Katie J's explanation of the Religious Background of Palace Walk will appear in the heading.

    Meanwhile, there are some new discussion questions to ponder, and I want to get Ros's explanation of the title up there.

    More, too, absolutely jaw dropped at his reaction!


    Eileen Megan
    August 10, 1998 - 08:51 am

    I couldn't agree with you more - "control freaks" have to be the most frightened people in the world. I would venture to say that at one time or another in our lives most of us have been guilty of trying to control "things". I have a boss who, for the most part, can be charming but if anyone makes even a small error this guy will go absolutely ape - everything has to be "perfect"!

    Eileen Megan

    August 10, 1998 - 12:02 pm
    Hi folks,

    Just needed to touch base and say how much I'm getting out of all your great posts.

    Recently got PW from the library and am trying to catch up and absorb all the flavors.

    The thing that pops out the most to me (well, second to the gap between genders) is how easily and often their religious verses come into their minds and conversations. They are hardly able to take action on anything that isn't under the guidance of a verse.

    Thanks so much for the background info, it's a tremendous help.


    Roslyn Stempel
    August 10, 1998 - 12:57 pm
    Katie, I agree absolutely that very little in the delineation of characters need be taken as unique to Islam. Your comparison to certain evangelicals is apt. The recent selection Colour of Water included a father, taken or at least based on a real man, who assumed the mantle of one ordained to deliver religious guidance, who was himself a despicable person.

    Ginny, perhaps this discussion would provide additional support for Elmer Gantry. I thought I voted for it but don't remember where I posted my vote.

    Dianne, we certainly are finding a lot of references to the Koran. It occurred to me that because the education of males consisted almost entirely of memorizing the verses, with dire punishment if they made mistakes, they must have developed the habit of quoting the Holy Book at every opportunity. Wouldn't this show how devout they were and how "learned" they were? We'll overlook the fact that they learned very little else in their elementary education.

    We need to remember that the goal of literacy training over the centuries has been the ability to read scripture of some kind. Other kinds of information could be disseminated by word of mouth, at least in the era of low technology.

    I'm going to post some information about "literary Arabic" which readers might find enlightening as we plough through some of those weighty sentences.


    Roslyn Stempel
    August 10, 1998 - 01:06 pm
    {The following is a rather lengthy explanation about the apparent awkwardness of the translation we're reading:

    The writer, John Fowles, suggests that we think of the elaborate design structure of Islamic decorative technique, or the "untranslatable" features of Arabic music, to help us recognize the difficulty translators encounter when trying to render Mahfouz's work into English. Fowles, known to American readers as the author of The Collector and The French Lieutenant's Woman, wrote an introduction to a short novel by Mahfouz, Miramar.The following is taken from that intro. The ellipses are mine.:

    One obvious hurdle is the Arabic language itself. With its sharp distinction between spoken and literary forms, it is farm from easy to translate into a pragmatic, almost purely vernacular language like English....The differences among the spoken dialects of Arabic are much greater than among those in English; yet an Algerian and an Iraqi writer, because of the literary lingua franca, have no difficulty in reading each other's work. This ...helps explain why serious writers in Arabic have resisted all attempts to evolve a demotic written form; but in addition the "vulgar" forms of Arabic are principally languages of transaction, lacking the finesse and richness a novelist requires of his basic clay; and there are in any case ... problems notating the vernacular.

    This does not mean a modern Arab writer cannot employ colloquial usages.... A translator has to allow for that -- and then jump to the other historical extreme with all the echoes of ...the classical form fundamentally derived...from the language of the Koran and the 8th century founding fathers of Arabic philology, al-Khalil and Sibawaih. These resonances are obviously nearly impossible to render in another tongue without descending to fustian and the mock-biblical.

    Then stylistically Arabic has an odd conjunction of paucity of rhetorical device but great subtlety of syntax and grammar. A translator into English is faced with the constant problem of staying true to his text on the one hand and making some accommodation to English stylistic conventions on the other. ..[For example].Ellipsis and repetition of words are favourite devices in Arabic ... and in general the very reverse in English. * From Fowles's introduction to Miramar, p. viii; published in Arabic in 1967 by University of Cairo Press; English translation, Three Continents Press,1978; American edition, 1983.

    In short:
    Literary Arabic is a formal style of writing with certain conventions.
    It is different from literary English in the same way that Arabic designs and music are different from those of the West.
    It can be read by literate people in any of the Arabic-speaking nations of the world.
    There are ways of inserting informal language, but these are sometimes hard to translate.

    I hope this is helpful.


    Katie Jaques
    August 10, 1998 - 01:55 pm
    Thanks to Ros for the notes on the problems of translation. Often the language seems awkward, but it is clear that the translator is walking a fine line between being true to the text and getting the nuances across in English.

    Yasin's interview with his mother is another excellent example of Islamic, or perhaps just Arab, attitudes toward women. A woman's sexual transgressions, such as Yasin's mother's remarriage after her divorce from his father, are felt to dishonor her male relatives. Yasin feels victimized by his mother, whereas we are more inclined to see HER as the victim.

    Geraldine Brooks notes that in both Islam and Christian, especially Catholic, tradition, women bear the burden of maintaining sexual propriety. Ali, the husband of Muhammad's daughter Fatima and the founder of Shiite Islam, said, "Almighty God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to men." Muslims believe that women have a natural, insatiable sexual appetite that must be curbed; that is the justification for seclusion and veiling, and in some places, clitoridectomy. In Catholic school, Brooks says, she was taught just the opposite: girls must be on their best behavior because boys cannot control their lust. Either way, women bear the brunt of fending off social disorder.

    "Every year about 40 Palestinian women die at the hands of their fathers or brothers in so-called 'honor killings' that wipe away the shame of a female relative's premarital or extramarital sex." Brooks, p. 49. Honor killings are better documented in Palestine than elsewhere due to the Israeli occupation, but they occur in other places as well. An example was the execution of the Saudi princess Mishaal bint Fahd bin Mohamed, who was shot in a parking lot in Jeddah in 1977. There is some dispute over whether Mishaal was married or not, but she had run off with a lover, Khalid Muhallal, and spent a few nights with him in a hotel before trying to flee the country dressed as a man. She was apprehended at the airport and turned over to her family.

    So ... maybe Yasin's mother gets off easy.

    August 10, 1998 - 04:30 pm
    We've had some mischievous spirits around here for sure. I posted the URL for the Koran plus some other comments this morning before I left the house and I just logged on to find no trace of anything I wrote.

    (Koran URL) Don't know why but when I put it into HTML it came up on word in living color and then totally disappeared when I pasted it here. Wha happened??? Would one of you techies kindly enlighten me.

    As for our story, I was absolutely stunned by Ahmad's reaction to Amina's incident. The author tells us that had Ahmad had someone with whom to vent his incredible rage during the time of her recovery ,he might not have reacted the way he eventually did. Did any of you expect it? I didn't. I knew there was a storm coming but not banishment. But then remember how he treated his first wife (who was allowed more freedom than Amina), how he turned her from his house thinking he would frighten her and have her return at a later time being more in his control. It backfired on him…she chose not to return. Of course I have very warm feelings about Amina as I have come to know her. She is warm,responsible ,kind and loving in her duties as a mother and mistress to say nothing of her terrified devotion to her husband. Will he have her back or not?

    And what about the visit of the three "matchmakers" and what that must have been like for Khadija…and for Aisha for that matter. Her future depended on what the family thought they were there for. I was moved for this elder daughter and her humiliation,dashed hopes and aspirations. I found it curious that they immediately knew that three strange women coming to call had to be matchmakers. But again it undoubtedly is custom

    The Koran Site

    August 10, 1998 - 05:16 pm
    Whoops...the phone rang and I knew I was going to lose the previous post so I just sent it along without finishing it. Hate to lose what I've already written.

    Anyhoo I was speculating on what I thought was strange even in an unfamiliar culture. Was this the way it went? Didn't families get together to try to make good matches? It showed that among other things Amina never had any unannounced guests and so far I can remember never had any guests with the possible exception of Maryam.

    Does this mean that anyone could come to a young woman's house and inspect her and her family, unannounced as well, and ask for her hand in marriage?

    And Ahmad's comment saying something to the effect that I have no sons. I have five daughters. What a guy!

    August 10, 1998 - 05:25 pm
    Helen, it didn't disappear, it's just a few back, as we've had a flurry of great posts! You didn't see it, but it's there, and I made it clickable, and it's also in the heading!

    So I just wish now I knew where to look on the clothes!

    I must say, to quote a person I think a great deal of, you all DAZZLE!~ Wow and wow!

    Ros: Thanks so much for that wonderful info on the translation! I've read some stuff too and will try to type it in tomorrow, it's more of a critical look, and will make a nice harmony with yours.

    Such is my new ability with the famous FTP, that I am now able to put Katie Jaques' and Ros' wonderful background stuff on their own html pages and up in the heading as clickables! This will be great in case you are interested a week from now in reviewing the meaning of the title, or refreshing yourself on the religious background! Am so happy with my new found ability, I may put ALL your posts in the heading! hahahahahha

    Megan, isn't it always the way, and have you noticed the "control freak" who has a fit if something goes wrong, usually doesn't bat an eyelash when it's he that made the mistake himself.

    Katie, that's an interesting point you bring up, about the woman's supposed role of blame, one of the discussion questions took that up, too. Will try to go find it for tomorrow.

    Helen: We were posting together just now...I found I cared very much about Amina in these scenes, too, and worried whatever would become of her. I was totally shocked. I'll go up and fix your URL.

    On the matchmakers, that society isn't the only one where the oldest daughter has to marry first! Where else was that a custom?

    But I found myself again getting irritated over Yasin's mother being such a sinner, while Ahmad certainly has done more to merit that label. Sort of a Caesar's wife type of thing.

    Di!! Our brilliant Di is back, what a sterling group, truly "mine eyes dazzle."


    Roslyn Stempel
    August 10, 1998 - 06:38 pm
    Ginny, I'd appreciate your getting into the clickable about the title and correcting the spelling of the general's name from Gawhaz to Gawhar - my typo, sorry. BTW, after hunting all over for the old street I found on one map that it is now shown as part of a longer street called Al-Mu'izz Din Allah.

    Helen, we certainly have to suspend our own perceptions as we read this section, don't we? What a contrast between Aisha's submissiveness to her father's will and today's view of the importance of women's selfhood! She says (in one of those lengthy introspections Mahfouz loved) that she "had to be happy and content. To be despondent would be an unforgivable offense. To protest would be a sin her conscience and sense of etiquette could not allow."

    This brought to mind Jill Ker Conway's book about women's memoirs, in which she points out that women have so often interpreted their lives as the result of passive acceptance of outside forces, instead of claiming or even wanting to be the agents of their own fates. The women in this family are certainly shown as "patients" rather than "agents."


    LJ Klein
    August 11, 1998 - 03:23 pm
    FRAN I posted an answer to your message #75 in the discussion group that became Elmer Gantry. Its inappropriate there and here (Now) so I'll post it in Non-Fiction.

    Please note



    August 11, 1998 - 04:37 pm
    Here are a few more thoughts on the translation and the novel itself, but first: the question of the women's complicity?

    14) Discuss the role of women's complicity in their own repression-- both in Cairene society and in our own-- as typified by classic examples in the text of blaming the victim.

    Is this question worth putting up?

    Here is a statement on the theme of the book and the translation by the author of our introduction in the heading, from TIMELESS RHYTHMS OF AN EGYPTIAN FAMILY

    Author: By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff

    Date: Wednesday, February 28, 1990 Page: 43 Section: LIVING

    "For leisurely page after leisurely page nothing much seems to happen, although these same pages are rich in psychological insight and cultural observation. Describing Amina with her mother, Mahfouz writes, "The two women might have been a single person with her image reflected forward to the future or back into the past. In either case, the difference between the original and its reflection revealed the terrible struggle raging between the laws of heredity, attempting to keep things the same, and the law of time, pushing for change and a finale."

    But Mahfouz also recounts important and upsetting events. On the domestic scene there are marriages, a divorce, a temporary banishment, childbirth, death, all of which we see in the context of larger political currents and social change that will alter many things in family life but leave others unchanged.

    Before embarking on "The Cairo Trilogy," Mahfouz systematically read the major 19th-century novels of England, France and Russia -- Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Balzac, Zola. The solid, slow, painstaking manner of the 19th-century realists is the manner of "Palace Walk"; a streak of humor in the midst of this is a welcome surprise....(have omitted here a reference to the end of the book)....

    What makes Mahfouz's manner so striking and original is that he is writing about a society and a way of thinking almost unimaginably remote from those of the European novel. For example, dialogue is obviously one of the principal resources of the European novelist and it is for Mahfouz, too, but he must use it in a completely different way. In this world people very seldom say directly what is on their mind, even within the confines of close friendship or the immediate family; their conversation largely consists of ritual formulas of politeness, aphorism ("After a few months as tasty as olive oil, your bride turns into a dose of castor oil") and suitable quotation from the Koran. But these angled conversations, as Mahfouz renders them, are more unmistakable than enigmatic in their content.

    Other aspects of Mahfouz's majestic and capacious accomplishment must be viewed through the scrim of a translation that does not seem very satisfactory. A reader who has no Arabic cannot assess the accuracy of the work by William M. Hutchins and Olive E. Kenny, but could legitimately wish that the translators were more familiar with the rhythms, tones and resources of English. In his own language Mahfouz is celebrated for the classical elegance of his style; this English is alternately stodgy, clumsy and jarringly anachronistic. Cloistered Arab maidens in Cairo 75 years ago may have wished for freeer glamorous lives, but it seems unlikely that they would have wished to "doll themselves up"; the sons of Al-Sayyid Ahmad might not describe their father as "one of the great skirt-chasers" in a society without skirts."

    Have not had time to go change the inner quotes, but I'm thinking you get the idea.


    August 11, 1998 - 04:51 pm
    Some additional information about Naguib Mahfouz that could be of interest to you. Please note the date of this press release. (1994)


    Author: Associated Press

    Date: Sunday, October 16, 1994 Page: 31 Section: NATIONAL/FOREIGN

    CAIRO -- Nobel Prize-winning writer Naguib Mahfouz said yesterday that the knife attack against him, blamed on Muslim radicals, provided an opportunity for prayers for the defeat of Islamic extremism.

    Mahfouz, diabetic and nearly blind, was stabbed in the neck several times Friday evening on a Cairo street.

    The attack unleashed a torrent of anger in Egypt, where it was condemned by Muslim leaders and fellow writers. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights called the stabbing "intellectual terrorism."

    No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but police blamed Muslim militants, who have carried out a bloody 2 1/2-year campaign to destabilize the government and install Khomeini.

    Mahfouz's novels, "Khan al-Khalili," "Midaq Alley" and the three volumes of the Cairo Trilogy are renowned for their depiction of Cairo's ordinary people.

    Hospital officials said Mahfouz was in good condition. State television showed him talking with political officials.

    "You are leading a battle in defense of true Islam," he told Interior Minister Hassan Alfy, who is in charge of the police battling Muslim militants.

    "This incident is an opportunity to ask God to make the police defeat terrorists and to plead for the country to be purified of this evil in defense of people, liberty and Islam," he said.

    Egypt's chief Muslim official, Grand Mufti Sheik Said Tantawi, called the stabbing a violation of Islamic law, or sharia.

    "The sharia forbids a Muslim from pointing a weapon at his fellow Muslim, not to mention using this weapon in killing," he said.

    Gamal Ghitani, editor of the literary weekly Akhbar al-Adab, said, "This attack defames Islam and Arabs in a way that the worst of our enemies have not been able to inflict upon us."

    Oh and I do want to apologize for posting on an event that was ahead of our scheduled reading for this week. I find myself not only up to date on the reading but have already gone far ahead and therefore made the goof. This is uncharacteristic of my usual reading habits.

    laura Ginn
    August 12, 1998 - 07:38 pm
    Re: Palace Walk, questions asked re women in Cairo today. I was there three years ago. Our guide in the city was a young woman, she wore blue jeans, spoke very good English and informed us all guides in Egypt must have a 4 year degree and speak several languages fluently. I had the previledge of standing on the sidelines and watching a very expensive wedding reception taking place at our hotel. Most all of the women were dressed in very lovely western attire however the entertainment was stricktly old time and the brides train was so heavy she needed six young girls to carry it for her when she walked.

    When we cruised down the Nile and would tour the small villages we did not see one native female. The whole place was run by men. Quite a contrast to the city.

    August 13, 1998 - 05:54 am
    Laura! Welcome, welcome!!

    WE are delighted to see you here! I hope you will continue your on the spot reports of Egypt today. I do plan to go to Egypt, but not until they stop killing American tourists.

    Helen: you and I post together always, we must be twins. Thanks so much for that article about the attack on Mahfouz, poor guy, shame on them, he sounds quite helpless. I will put IT up in the heading, too.

    Ros: my new found ability to upload does not include edits! However, have received a long letter from Larry on how to accomplish this, and will give it my best later today.

    I thought this section was remarkable in a lot of ways. Three chapters explaining Ahmad's inner rationalizations, including his light hearted remarks which he is nervous about until he can ask God's forgiveness. Must be nice to be a man in his position, say anything, do anything, just say, O Sorry, and go on.

    We get his perspective on marriage, women, and the possibility of another wife. We hear about Yasin's mother, and we can see Yasin's selfish attitude toward his mother's happiness. "He shouted angrily,' Wht's already happened is all I can bear. I will not permit you to soil my reputation again.'"

    This, when she wanted to remarry. Now, mind that Ahmad remarried without soiling Yasin's reputation. Don't you want to choke him? Sorry, but I do. Yet, many young men think this way, as hard as it is to believe. Apparently this religion does not allow for thinking of others.

    Then we have the matchmakers, and the knowledge that "no man has ever seen either of my daughters since they stopped going to school when they were little girls." on page 157. Obviously the matchmakers want the pretty one.

    AND then, we have the "innocent breath of fresh air," Chapter 27. Mahfouz tells us, that in additon to everything else, "Deep inide her, imprisoned currents yearning for release responded to the call in the same way that eager, aggressive instincts answer the call for a war proclaimed to be in defense of freedom and peace." (Page 165) So Amina decides to venture out!

    There is joy, there is "innocent pleasure," "It was the pleasure of someone who had spent a quarter of a century imprisoned by the walls of her home." (page 167).

    The images I'm seeing here are of wistfulness, joy, innocence and being a prisoner. Mahfouz is telling us that, and I think it's for a reason. And then the shrine, and then the school. AND THEN pages 170-171.

    Why did she faint? What does this say about the plot and why did Mahfouz have this happen at all? Where, in short, is Mahfouz leading us, and what are we to make of it?

    Would we make something different of it if WE were Egyptian?

    This whole section, from the excursion to the reaction was just electric for me!


    Charlotte J. Snitzer
    August 13, 1998 - 08:39 am
    Mafouz in his involving, well written book shows us what by American standards would be termed a dysfunctional family. The autocratic father takes little part in family life exccept in making major decisions about individual lives. He spends his time at work and in evening pleasure with his friends. The mother is completely subservient , assumes nothing for herself and always bends to her husband's will. Yasin cruelly ignores his biological mother and brutally attacks her after ignoring her existence for eleven years. His concern is mainly for his inheritance and his reputation. The other children are given little choice in what happens in their lives. The family appears to be religious, since there are repeated references to their belief in the existence of God. But where are their ethics?

    Mafouz doesn't say these things. He lets us seem them for ourselves. I worry about finding a solution in the Mid-East with people so different from ourselves.


    Roslyn Stempel
    August 13, 1998 - 11:33 am
    Charlotte, I agree that the scene between Yasin and his mother is indeed moving. Did it perhaps remind you of Hamlet's outrage at his mother's too-hasty marriage to her former brother-in-law? Both situations were fictional, and just as I wouldn't have extrapolated the Shakespearean drama to apply to every Elizabethan family, I didn't assume that every Egyptian Muslim family experienced a tangle of relationships identical to the one that Mahfouz drew here. What I did respond to was the emotional quality of both mother and son's behavior. The little boy she had cherished and given up had become a man, very like his father (her first husband) in both physique and manner. And Yasin, whose childish memories have already been revealed to us, must have been having some uncomfortable moments as well.

    Some of us who are only one generation removed from our immigrant roots will remember the autocratic hard-working father who was absent during all our waking hours but whose image and shadow appeared to rule the household. However, again Mahfouz shows only one side of the mother's role: She was, it is true, subservient to her husband, as is ordained in the Koran; but on the other hand, she ruled the household, controlled the children with love as well as threats; managed all the details and kept things running smoothly -- and perhaps, as Dylan Thomas wrote in another context, "sang in her chains like the sea."

    It occurs to me that when we read about a different culture in fiction as vivid and absorbing as Mahfouz's, it is much harder for us to distinguish the particular from the universal. I've had to keep reminding myself that this is a story, not a treatise.

    Laura, how interesting that you have recent experience of Cairo to share with us, and that you were able to observe a wedding. I wonder if you were told whether this was a Muslim or a Coptic (Christian) ceremony, and if the latter, whether there was any information about the difference in the degree of liberty afforded to the women.


    Eileen Megan
    August 13, 1998 - 01:57 pm
    What a wealth of information we are getting from the posters! The explanation of the difficulty of translation helped me understand why much of what was written seems so "stilted" to me. I remember hearing that the Vietnamese have 32 ways of saying "you" - placing "you" in a very precise category!

    Ros, I remember very well how my Irish grandfather, Pa, was catered to by Ma - he was the "breadwinner" but I also remember, when I was a kid in the thirties, on Sunday mornings Pa brought Ma her tea and toast in bed, so it wasn't all one-sided.

    Reference was made to the "instant" quotations from the Koran that spilled from everyone's lips at the drop of a hat. In the old days, I remember being taught "ejaculations", small prayers, such as "Oh my Jesus, all for Thee"at our Catholic high school. The previously mentioned Irish grandparents had a wealth of references to God, His mother, and all the saints at the tip of their tongues - "Jesus, Mary and Joseph" was a favorite, not said as a curse but a small fervent prayer.

    Even though men "ruled the roost" in Mahfouz's book - this family may not be typical, but used an example of "god-ordained" authority carried to the extreme. As in many cultures, the women actually were in charge of what went on inside the house. How often we have read or seen in the movies in stories of old Japan the men being trailed by a subservient woman. Yet, everybody took their shoes off before entering the house - now who do you suppose thought that up?

    Eileen Megan

    August 13, 1998 - 05:35 pm
    What wonderful posts, I'm enjoying them along with the book.

    Charlotte reminded me of something I THOUGHT when I read about Yasin's confrontation with his mother, but forgot: "His concern is mainly for his inheritance and his reputation." That's what I thought when I read it, too.

    I don't think our boy Yasin comes off very well in the context with his natural mother, but isn't he the fine young man at home? I thought it was heartbreaking, that scene, thought that could have happened anywhere: not so much the concern about the reputation: but the hard feelings. I think Yasin's motivation is his childishness. He's spoiled. He's hurt. You could see this scene with different words in almost any culture.

    Loved the Irish comparison, lots of cultures are male dominated on the surface, in fact,'s a man's world lots of places. And the religious expressions. Every other breath, just like Megan said, I remember them too. I thought I noticed, tho, that they stop about half way thru the book. Did anyone notice that? At first you seem to be overwhelmed with them, then, for some reason, they diminish.

    Roslyn: "Sang in her chains like the sea." Wow!! Wow. THAT is some image, yet what is a prisoner to do? That's a good starting point for any debate about any prisoner. To what extent IS she the prisoner that Mahfouz himself has called her, and more than once?

    Did anybody say why they thought she fainted just then? Didn't he do a good job with that scene? I loved the sort of whirlwind swimming of the bazaar, and she tried to stop the child, but he wanted to go on, and she wanted him to be pleased...and...and.

    He's a good writer, I think. Yet, to me, the translation gets in the way sometimes.


    August 13, 1998 - 09:00 pm
    Do any of you recall Richard Lovelace? Was it "To Althea From Prison":

    Stone walls do not a prison make,

    Nor iron bars a cage;

    Minds innocent and quiet take

    That for an hermitage;

    If I have freedom in my love,

    And in my soul am free,

    Angels alone that soar above

    Enjoy such liberty.

    I remember mulling over this quote and trying to envision myself feeling free while behind bars.

    Amina certainly made a whole world unto herself within the confines of her home and seemed content, even happy, in her limited surroundings for such a long time. She had a very narrow handle on her shared "happiness" with her husband - when he came home late at night, and drunk. UGH! I guess - to each his (or perhaps her) own.

    Marge Stockton
    August 14, 1998 - 06:20 am
    Lurker here. I appreciate Ros's comment about "distinguishing the particular from the universal." But I've been reading the Geraldine Brooks book (Nine Parts of Desire), [terrific book, btw]and it just reinforces my already existing prejudices. Of course, Brooks is writing in current time, and much has transpired in the Middle East since the time setting of Palace Walk. Nonetheless....

    Charlotte J. Snitzer
    August 14, 1998 - 11:31 pm

    I think it's great that you see the connection between the problems Hamlet has with his mother and Yasin has with his. At least Yasin doesn't kill his mother. But surely his behavior kills her emotionally.

    I think Mafouz is telling us the story of one family. It is not typical of all who follow that religious persuasion. But I do think he is being critical. He wants to show us, who live in a society based on the rights of the individual, how eroding such an autocratic, patriachal society can be.


    August 15, 1998 - 07:08 pm
    Charlotte - You've posted a thoughtful concept, that is the rights of an individual in our society. When those rights are wronged, intruded upon, or out and out withdrawn, there's so much misery to pay. I wonder how much Mafouz knew of our society. Had he ever spent time in the West?

    I'm only about half way through this book but I don't recall reading whether the women with their limited schooling read or even know how to read. Did I miss it?


    Irene Cornwell
    August 15, 1998 - 07:34 pm
    All, This is my first book club selection and I am very glad you got me started. I am up to Amina's exile to her mother's home. The mother (grandmother) is the first person to truly "see" Amina as an individual with a value beyond serving or being there for others.. . guess the blind see more than we realize. Irene

    Roslyn Stempel
    August 16, 1998 - 11:19 am
    Irene, welcome to this book club and thanks for your perceptive comment - a reminder that a mothers is able to see her daughter very differently from the way the rest of the world sees her.

    As Westerners living in the 1990's, we can't help reacting personally with a comparison between the way of life Mahfouz delineates and that which we have grown up with and/or which was represented to us as characteristic of our culture. However, at the risk of repeating myself to the threshold of boredom, I want to emphasize that Mahfouz wrote this trilogy for an Egyptian audience and had no thought of its reaching the West. He completed it before 1957 and it wasn't translated until about 1990. So we need to apply two sets of reading glasses: the first, distance vision, to help us understand -- without judging -- what he was saying about his own culture as it was at the time of his childhood -- a culture which had already undergone many changes between 1914 and the 1950's; the second, close vision to let us consider the parallels and distinctions between Cairo of 1914 and Cincinnati, Asheville, or wherever we grew up in the decade of our own childhood.

    To use a crude example, when you read Gone With the Wind, did you spend a lot of energy condemning the slave-owners or the opposing armies or the tight-laced corsets of the Southern belles, or the primitive childbearing conditions of the 1860's in wartime? And did you feel that when Emma Bovary put her gloves into her wineglass, or when Charles Bovary's misguided surgical experimentation had a disastrous outcome, you needed to judge these behaviors in comparison with the vastly more enlightened etiquette and medical research of our day?


    Irene Cornwell
    August 16, 1998 - 12:43 pm
    Roslyn, Yes, there is rather a framework of culture throughtout this book. . .foreign to those of us here. But, I'm finding many universal family moments in their "home" as well. The wishing for a different nose, the desire to stop for a forbidden sweet, the family member who communicates with his/her eyes, the recognizing of a certain footstep down the hall.. .and on and on. Also, does anyone else think Kamal's actual spiritual feelings and innocence are what annoys his father so much (the child plans to live as well as mouth his faith) or is it something else? Irene

    August 16, 1998 - 02:15 pm
    Irene!! Welcome, welcome!!

    You have truly joined a great group of minds, and I think, and I may be alone here, a great book.

    I never have understood what the problem was between Kamal and his father. I wish somebody would explain how the others might get hit, but he would get kicked at the least. What on earth?

    I thought all day about Di's quoting Lovelace's poem about walls and iron bars making a prison.

    I think there are many ideas in the book which are transferable to any society anywhere. And some that aren't.

    Now Ros's new question has got me thinking again. The closest experience I've had to Mahfouz is Pearl Buck. I'm trying to remember how I felt when reading the first in her series, The Good Earth . Almost immediately there were shocking things: the childbirth in the field, the care of the old man, the treatment of the wife. But somehow, Buck was more skillful, more able to, at least in my opinion, involve the reader instantly. This may have been due to her bi lingual heritage. It may be due to her excellent writing skills which need no translatiion (I STILL think the translation hurts a little) or it may be due to the individual. Certainly there can be no culture more foreign to my current life than the life of the Chinese peasant that many years ago, yet I felt I lived it with them, and understood not only the characters in the book, but the history of China as well. I still think that.

    I didn't feel that when I read Gone With the Wind . I thought the book much much better than the movie. I empathized with Scarlet's emotions, thought I understood Rhett, but don't remember, frankly, thinking "against" the characters. That is, criticizing them. But it's been an awfully long time since I read it.

    So I came in here about to say something about personal freedom, and the iron bars of society and the cages of the mind, and now am off on another tangent, but that's what a good book and a good book group are all about!


    August 16, 1998 - 04:12 pm
    Those stonewalls (with latticework) did not a prison make. At her mother's home Amina yearns to return to it all. How could she not with all the love and concern she received from her family, even from her stepson. The 25 years of household responsibilities were her nitch in life.

    Ginny, I loved the Good Earth. I drank tea and read it more than once, only to find, during the lean years, they reused the leaves many times over. I recall that pearl her husband had given her and then took back to give to his concubine.

    Ros, thanks for resetting the picture as to what audience this novel was written for.


    August 16, 1998 - 05:22 pm
    Welcome Irene!

    Some thought's about the reading to date:

    Amina's exile to her mother's home gives us to date unrealized knowledge about her youth. We learn that she was the only surviving child of a family of sisters and was truly cherished by both of her parents. "..…You were the only child left in the family. You were all the family possessed in this world, it's hope, consolation, and happiness. You flourished in a nursery formed by our hearts."

    Her father was a highly educated man, a scholar , but also a man who was able to "whisper expressions of love and affection".

    The more I read the more I do not believe that Amina has accepted and adapted the ways of her husband's home with the seemingly happy existence that is portrayed. Yes, the time and the culture were dramatically different. But I do believe that somewhere deep in her still exists her need to be loved, treasured and appreciated and give voice to her thoughts and feelings. She has been repressed for lo these many years. She had already experienced a considerably kinder way of life. No matter what the culture, we still are humans with feelings that go underground and wound us when they aren't permitted to be expressed.

    Look at the rest of the family members. Mahfouz tells us about each of them and their thoughts and feelings. No they are not portrayed to be blindly following their father's rules without question or a little dissembling On their parts.

    When Amina had the opportunity to go out of her house to a shrine she had dreamed (yes, She does have her dreams) of visiting for so long. She ran for it. The more we read the more we realize that her husband's behavior is not typical of the other characters we meet or hear about in the story. He was an extremist. I wait to see what develops with our Amina as the events continue to unfold.

    August 17, 1998 - 07:41 am
    Helen, you've pointed out the very thing I came in here to say!

    I think our Reading Schedule needs to reflect this short section, in which so much happens, and which SHOULD be a major turning point in the PLOT of the book, but ....? Is it??

    So our Reading Schedule for this week, I think, needs to be pages 174-211, "Disaster." My title.

    Experiment 1

    This morning I just finished conducting my own experiment? I intended to reread the first three chapters of three books and apply the "Ros idea," and SEE if I had any different reaction this time around?

    hahahhaah Don't you LOVE something that actually makes you THINK? Dickens was always complaining about being able to find a reader who THINKS!

    Anyway, I started out with Gone With the Wind and found fourteen pages more than enough, so read 14 pages of that and The Good Earth and reread Palace Walk on the first fourteen pages.

    I'm astounded in what I now think of all three. If you get the chance, please do the same with any other two books of your choice plus Palace Walk?

    I'm in the midst of an approaching storm, can't post everything I'd like to, what are your opinions of these few pages this week?

    Back at ya with my, to me, anyway, startling conclusions. Buck was a Nobel Prize winner as was Mahfouz, did Mitchell win a prize also?

    Those were just the two I chose to compare.


    Roslyn Stempel
    August 17, 1998 - 07:44 am
    The last few posts have been most enlightening in that they reveal a variety of approaches to Palace Walk. As Ginny has noted, that's what a good book group is all about. This isn't a course; we're here in the interest of continuing our lifelong learning rather than earning credits, and each of us --having reached at least the minimum age that is the only requirement for membership --has had an opportunity to read many books and form a pattern for thinking about them. Therefore all roads to understanding are open, whether they're main-travelled thoroughfares or dim tracks in the grass.

    I do have a point to make about this selection: I regard it as literature rather than just another piece of fiction, by which I mean that the quality of the writing, the content, and the underlying ideas entitle it to a more serious examination than, for example, the latest Siddons, Clark, or Collins. Reading for appreciation rather than just reading to escape from my everyday life, I feel I should follow what I have called "the author's rules."

    For me personally, respecting the authorship of a work requires that I avoid rewriting it as I go along. First, this means reading to grasp the immediate content, followed by a period of reflection and interpretation. I can't begin by taking the characters literally as if they were real people with emotions and desires that I can penetrate without the author's help. If I do that, then I must recognize that those are MY emotions and desires, not those of a two-dimensional character on paper and not those of the author unless s/he has revealed them to me.

    I can't speculate that a character "should have" or "could have" acted differently or "must have wanted to" do something unless I ask myself whether its creator "should have" or "could have" given the character a different kind of action. Any such speculation, along with considerations of style, metaphors, political significance, etc., might occur along the way, but cannot find closure until I've reached the end of what the author wanted to tell me.

    Forgive this personal explanation, which is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It's the way I look at a book. Heaven forbid that anyone should think his/her way of looking is "wrong" because it's different.


    August 17, 1998 - 07:56 am
    Roslyn, we were posting together!! I copied yours out to "chew" on, always love your posts, even tho I do thrill a little when I see one , as I always fear you'll mention yet ANOTHER book I've never heard of which I'll then HAVE to have, and when I go and look up THAT book you've mentioned, I'm pennies poorer, and off again merrily reading away. Have actually gotten quite a stack of them lately.

    You DO know the best books!

    (Roslyn had casually mentioned The Golden Legend to me, which, of course, I'd not heard of, ordered both volumes, am just obsessed with it, can't put it down. It's not for everyone's taste: the lives of the saints, written in the...1200s, but oh my mercy, can't put it down). It's ringing so many bells, I feel like a bell tower.

    ANYWAY, will print that one out.....NEW QUESTIONS ARE UP!!


    August 17, 1998 - 11:33 am
    Ros: One major difference between us is that you are so rational,logical and disciplined in your approach (plus the fact that your acccomplished reading list boggles the mind) I of course am waiting and hoping that with what I believe about human nature in any place at any time,certain things hold true. I am anticipating where I hope Mahfouz will take us or I should say the character of Amina.

    And hey if this isn't a course how come I found myself over at the library the other day looking for books on Islamic feminism? I think it says so much for this piece of work. It is so rich that it has us thinking about it with an interest that I haven't found in my reading for some time. It is also a perfect work to read with a group such as this and over a period of time.

    About the Egyptian woman today. Haven't been able to really spend much time on it but the answer seems to be quite varied. According to my sources only a small percent of the women in Egypt live today as cloistered as in the time of "Palace". There appears to be a hostility towards the west and the way we look at them. They think we are too hung up on the dress business. Some feel that they can get alot further by wearing more modest dress than not. Many of the women are highly educated and say they are looking for more freedom socially and within their family structures. They say they have always had financial freedom. When I get something more concrete I will post it.

    Roslyn Stempel
    August 17, 1998 - 05:19 pm
    Helen, I agree about the richness and depth of the book and you're right that it rewards careful reading and discussion - and every viewpoint is legitimate. If I remember correctlly, you were one of the original advocates of Palace Walk, and it was a superlative choice.

    I hope you've found Brooks's Nine Parts of Desire, which I'm exploring with wonder and enjoyment -- and I'm so grateful to Katie J. and Marge and whoever posted it in the reading list originally. One thing I gleaned from it, and from some other (and far less readable) materials about women in Islam, is that the issues of freedom and of the wearing of the hijab have gone back and forth over the decades, depending on the nature of the "revolutions" that were occurring.


    Irene Cornwell
    August 18, 1998 - 06:58 am
    Hello all, Just stopping here this morning for a moment or two. I am beginning to wonder if the father ((Ahmad Abd al-Jawad) isn't attracted to women who are of their own mind, but extrememly fearful of losing them if they have any freedom of choice. Why? Because his iron control over Amina doesn't seem to apply regrading his first marriage. He sent Yasim to try to halt his first wife's remarriage, and yet he told Yasim he could invite her to his wedding. His nights are spent with women who are bold enough to approach him at his daughter's wedding. His grabbing Yasim by the arm when he basically attacked a servant and his beating of Kamal for merely telling him to return his mother seems to bespeak a pattern. Does this man "want" women who has an individual and colorful personality but does he greatly fear finding any such individuality in his present wife? Would Amina leave him for others too? Is Mahfouz apologizing for the male or defending the male or merely attempting to explain their dilemmas?? I AM enjoying this book. Irene

    Charlotte J. Snitzer
    August 18, 1998 - 08:47 am

    You are right on. I find that I read book right through because I want to find out what happens. Then I have much more fun by going back to the very beginning to see how it was put together. I often recognize what the author had in mind long before he actually tells what occurred.


    August 18, 1998 - 09:23 am
    Irene, what a marvelous perspective! Never thought of it that way, want to keep it in the back of my mind for the rest of the book.

    Could very well be.


    August 19, 1998 - 08:30 am
    This small 34 page section for this week has SO much in it, and I have SO much to say about it, I despair of ever getting it down.

    If we were outlining the plot, surely this is a big bump?

    I'm confused a little about the actual events. She fainted, as I understand it, apparently overwhelmed by the sights and sounds, and THEN a car appeared, missing her by inches. (p. 171). Yet, upon their arrival home, the CAR is blamed for the accident? (p.175).

    I thought Mahfouz did a wonderful job with that fainting scene, I could not only picture it, but have felt like that myself. That was masterful.

    Then Ahmad comes home, and she tearfully tells him she was compelled to visit the shrine of al-Husayn, and was struck by a car. And it was God's will.

    Who can't feel sorry for the pitiful woman? And Ahmad says nothing but stay in bed until God heals you.

    Ahmad keeps to his regular jaunts, the family wonders at his lack of temper and figures he's finally come out of the dark ages when he comes out with," I just have one thing to say: Leave my house immediately."

    Mercy, what a shock, several have already said how dumbfounded they were at this. I thought Mahfouz did, again, a marvelous job at portraying her fear and dilemma: where would she go, what would she do?

    Many women today are in the same boats, right here in America. They are not educated and have no skills, they can't make their own way, and so they stay with abusers, while everybody else wrings their hands and says O Why Don't You Get Out??

    Or maybe they are suddenly divorced, and the man has always held all the keys to the checkbook etc., etc. And they find they know nothing, and are not provided for.

    I think of all the movie stars who have been defrauded: Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds, to name only 2, by their own husbands. Doris Day has given up on men, likes dogs better, says they're more loyal.

    Amina had never considered being evicted (p.194). Strangely enough, the idea of violence HAD reared its head, but not eviction.

    And we learn, through Mahfouz, that Mr. Ahmad found "the loathsome truth that was an affront to his pride and dignity," but he had put off his reaction in deference to his real concern for her. They have been married 25 years.

    "He convinced himself that if he forgave her and yielded to the appeal of affection, which he longed to do, then his prestige, honor, personal standards, and set of values would all be compromised. He would lose control of his family, and the bonds holding it together would dissolve. He could not lead them unless he did so with firmness and rigor." (page 194).Prestige and honor are two things conferred by others. So this culture, this society, this man, valued the opinion of others above what they emotionally feel would be the right thing to do.

    Wouldn't it be honorable to forgive the woman who has served him and not even left the house for 25 years?

    And then, he'd lose control. He loses control every night of his life, but in the eyes of the family and community he has to retain his aura of tyrant.

    I know him, have seen him in other guises, right here in America in 1998. Whatever excuse we may make for trying not to react to him, we can't help it, this is unfair.

    I've also conducted my own little experiment and will post tomorrow on it, but meanwhile, what are your thoughts on this short passage in a big book?

    He irritates me to death, the pompous old windbag, want to stick a pin in him, and one facet of his personality, his hypocrisy, reminds me of another figure now in the news.

    I bet I'm the only person in America who did NOT watch the Presiden'ts Address to the Nation, and who can't bear to watch the excerpts on television.

    And as for his wife?


    Eileen Megan
    August 19, 1998 - 01:32 pm
    Uh uh, Ginny, I too couldn't watch his address.

    As for Mr. Ahmad, well, we knew he was going to punish her some way or other. As upset as Amina was I don't think she really believed she was permanently banished from her home - she knows the man. I like her mother, quite a character. Even though this book is set in a different time and place, I'm sure we have all seen or known manipulative, self-absorbed people whose only concern is how whatever happens reflects on them. You will be punished if you upset their applecart . . .they can be female, too.

    Eileen Megan

    Roslyn Stempel
    August 19, 1998 - 02:45 pm
    Ginny's correct in identifying this short section as a major turning point in the novel:

    First, it's in this segment that Mahfouz begins to use more negatively weighted descriptions of Ahmad and also to reveal the atmosphere of terror in which his family lives. Mahfouz points out that the father, reacting emotionally to his wife's injury, had had to control his initial rage at her disobedience, and that because this anger had rankled during this period of clemency, it burst out as cold condemnation as soon as she appeared to be well. The reader need no longer depend on inference.

    Second,the author slips in a subtle bit of prophecy on page 176, as the family is wondering how this dreadful, disruptive accident could have occurred after Amina had visited the blessed shrine of al-Husayn. And Umm Hanafi responds portentously,

    "Who knows what might have befallen her, we take refuge in God, had she not been blessed by visiting her master and ours?"

    Let's consider that Al-Husayn's holy intervention might have been the cause of Amina's faint and her subsequent injury, because it led to the first faint cracks in Ahmad's iron rule. From that moment on, life changes for Amina, for Ahmad, and for the children of the family.


    Irene Cornwell
    August 19, 1998 - 10:18 pm
    Roslyn, Yes, that is certainly true. For a man "in control" the father is being assailed on all sides. From the political upheaval, the independence of Yasim's bride (backed by her father) and the fact his eldest son is doing as he does and not as he says! That I care deeply about all these people (even those who confound me) is the sign of a great writer of fictional characters. Irene

    August 20, 1998 - 02:06 pm
    Hi All,

    The following are excerpts from letters I have had from one of two American women (AARP elegible) who travelled through Israel with me in June(on a tour)and then continued on to Jordan and Egypt. I think it is wise to realize that they were only there for a few days and many things they saw fleetingly may have been misunderstood but I found it interesting enough to share with you.

    -Ann and I were quite a spectacle in both Jordan and Egypt
    > because we were two woman traveling without a man. > Egypt was less repressed, but still very Muslim. Our guide was an > excellent Egyptologist (his words) but he let Ann and I know what he > thought of single women travelling alone. He also hit a kid working on a boat ( a > black kid-they call Nubians, but they're not prejudiced!) We were all > very unhappy with that behavior. In his favor he did answer all Ø > questions and knew so much.

    August 14, 1998 Dear Helen, In answer to your question. When we were in Egypt we saw many women dressed as we would dress and even walking, presumably working and driving alone. However, it was made quite clear to us by our guide, Haseem, that women held a lower place in their society. He described women as being held in just a different place in society, ie. they have the responsibility of taking care of their husbands , home and raising the children. His wife who traveled with us dressed like us and he was quite generous with her in our presence. However, he told us that women who were unmarried (while looking at Ann and I) were considered to be like and I use his words whores and prostitutes. He said this with our whole group--I told Ann I didn't know whether to be grossly offended or flattered!! He was and is a male chavenentistic pig as we found many of the Egyptian men to be. However, others we found to be very nice. another Isram man in Egypt was just so nice, but he never talked about woman or any of his opinions. My "bent" on how Egyptians treat women is that probably most of them still consider them second class citizens, some allow their wives and females around them 'western' liberties, but still they are not equals and probably a few men truly allow their women to be equals. Truthfully, we didn't get to meet that many and certainly didn't talk to that many to really have a true picture. Hasheem was about 30 and dressed western style, but still he clearly didn't think much of us. It is possible that he just didn't like single American women. _____________________________________________________________________

    August 21, 1998 - 08:36 am
    Helen, how exciting, thanks so much for putting that there. I hope that Pat will hear soon from Carrie who lives in Cairo, and we can have the best of both opinions: the traveller and the actual native.

    Having read Not Without My Daughter about Iran, I can see there might be a double standard there.

    Those of you with the Nine Parts of Desire please chime in here often. I do have it, but have not started it yet, hope to get it done before this discussion is over, but would very much like to hear what it can add to the discussion.

    In the Library and the Mystery Book Club we're having some great thoughts expressed, and I wrote Joan Grimes for her permission to post hers here today: here's what she said about books in general:

    "Seriously, to me a really good discussion must be one where one supports what he/she says without being too subjective. A good discussion promotes thinking and learning not just a statment of liking or disliking a book. A discussion of a book is not just a criticism of what the author has written without looking at the author's purpose and the reasons behind the writing."

    I thought that was exemplary. She also states somewhere that opinions on the book need to be backed up by quotations from the author himself.

    That's what I was always taught (I hate to use that expression), that you can say anything you like about your conclusions on a book if you cite quotes from the author himself which support your point. You may be wrong, but it's the exploration which brings the enlightenment?

    And Ros: that's a very intriguing thought that al-Husayn, I take it a god like character, might have caused all this problem Ahmad the error of his ways?

    Do these gods work that way? In the lives directly of the people? I know nothing of Muslims and what they believe, would be grateful for anybody's input here.


    On the experiment, I do wish you'd all do this, it's fantastically interesting (and I KNOW you've all been holding your breaths for my post!!)

    I started Gone With the Wind , intending to read 3 chapters to see what reaction to it I had.

    I found 14 pages to be more than enough.

    The first pages are sprinkled with underpinnings and innuendoes.

    Was shocked to recall (I have read this before) that Scarlett is only a 16 year old girl with a 17" waist.

    Even on the first page, Mitchell, in what can only be described as a period piece, states that "her true self was poorly concealed...her eyes were her own."

    The twins who have come to call are woefully ignorant, yet "here in north Georgia, a lack of the niceties of classical education carried no shame...," and "their notorious inability to learn anything contained between the covers of books" is cited. Scarlett herself, "who had not willingly opened a book since leaving the Fayetteville Female Academy the year before...."

    And so on. I find, that while it is interesting as a period piece, perhaps the current Political Correctness movement has made me more painfully aware of the inappropriateness of "darkies," etc. etc. and what's being portrayed.

    I don't want to get into refighting the Civil War here, but it is a statistical fact that, I've forgotten the percentage, but a very very low percent of homeowners in the South at the time of the Civil War owned even 10 slaves, and most owned NONE.

    I'm finding that I can't relate whatsoever to any of the characters so far. I can take it as a statement of a romantic notion of how Margaret Mitchell thought the South was, or I can read the real story in Mary Chestnut's diaries, or Tombee Portrait of a Cotton Planter, the Plantation Journal of Thomas B. Chaplin (1822-1890) which strips a LOT of the glamour and the pretty white gauze off the reality. People are people, this was only 140 some years ago.

    So I find, yes, I am unable to separate myself from the reading experience, I can treat this book as a portrayal of a wishful ideal, but I can no longer get "into" it, as I can't, so far, identify with any of the characters. Maybe I need to give it 50 pages, like I usually do.

    In contrast, the first 14 pages of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth , being the story of a Chinese peasant who hasn't bathed in ages, and whose 3 room house is too big for just his father and himself, once again held me spellbound.

    Wang Lung wants things a bit nice for the brokered bride ("Not a slave too young, and above all, not a pretty one,"), and he sets about to clean himself up and buy some treats for a feast.

    The age old conflict between city and country arises when he goes to the barber for a shave, "Wang Lung perceived that he had fallen into the hands of a joker, and feeling inferior in some unaccountable way, as he always did, to these town dwellers, even though they were only barbers, and the lowest of persons..." he lets the barber do as he will, except for his pigtail.

    I mean, here we are, reading about a man with a pigtail, who hasn't washed himself one time since the "New Year," who goes to the big city and has his money cheated away from him by the gateman where the bride lives, and you're "in " the story.

    It, too, is a period piece about a society half way around the world, a foreign culture, yet you can empathize immediately with the character, and identify with his emotions.

    I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that you can read anything, and gain information from anything, but to really enjoy a book, you have to find SOMETHING that you can relate to, to empathize with or understand, before you can consider it a good book. Nor should these emotions be taken as being against the author's intention. If the author had intended us to LOVE Ahmad, he would never have presented his weaknesses: his drunkenness, his desire for control.

    If we were expected to think of Amina as an unprotesting "bee" and Religious, then we'd not have heard of her heart yearnings.

    I really think this is a good book, and I am so grateful for our Round Table approach, as each will bring to the table what HE or SHE sees, and we're all correct!

    I'd really like to compare this book with some of the others that seem to fall in its category, and the nearest I can come to that is the Pearl Buck books which also won the Nobel Prize.

    Have you tried to reread either of these?


    August 21, 1998 - 11:23 am
    Eddie Marie and Pat Scott and Sharon Grant and our own BOOKS in the Encyclopedia Britannica!!!

    Go see!!

    Encyclopedia Britannica!!

    Get outta here!!


    Roslyn Stempel
    August 21, 1998 - 01:26 pm
    Ginny, I want to respond to your question about the workings of Al-Husayn, but will leave it to others to comment on the rest of your message.

    "Mann macht, Gott lacht." Man proposes, God disposes. Think back to the intricate workings of the Olympians in the Odyssey: how the tiniest incident led to earth-shaking consequences.

    In Amina's belief system, her pilgrimage to the "master" Al-Husayn had protected her from graver injury when she fainted and then was struck by an automobile. But if not for the pilgrimage, she wouldn't have been there, wouldn't have fainted at that spot, wouldn't have been injured. Therefore, why not speculate -- always in the context of the story -- that it was the will of Allah (Insh'allah), through the intervention of the holy man, that this accident should occur, and that as a result her subservient relationship to Ahmad would become embarrassingly evident to others, that her children would rise up in her defense, and that there would be changes?

    True, Ahmad himself will eventually have to re-examine his behavior, but on the whole, I think what we see as the story goes on is the development of independence, resistance -- even rebellion -- in those who previously bowed to his will and protested only secretly and in whispers.


    Marge Stockton
    August 21, 1998 - 04:19 pm
    My reading preference is just as Ginny says..."to really enjoy a book, you have to find SOMETHING that you can relate to, to empathize with or understand, before you can consider it a good book." And for me, that somethings needs to be at least a few of the characters. Character development is, for me, one of the most, if not the most, important element of literary composition.

    When I have time, I'll pop in with bits from Nine Parts of Desire. I'm about 2/3 through it -- it's having to compete with London. Stiff competition!

    August 22, 1998 - 05:15 am
    Do, Marge, I really want to hear it.

    Ros: I love that point of view, that al-Husayn may himself have caused this to expose Ahmad and teach him the error of his ways.

    I'm not sure in my own mind what Islam teaches about this, however? And that's where I'm going.

    It's true you can look for the intervention of gods in daily life but it's also true that you can interpret it several ways.

    One might say, for instance, that it's just the opposite. That it was her great faith that sustained her when she erred by wanting to journey out and taste freedom and see the child's school, or it was her precise lack of faith and the attribution falsely of the trip to that faith which made her fall in the first place. That al-Husayn himself reached down and slapped her down for saying or even thinking (sins of ommission?) it was a religious pilgrimage when, in fact, it was an adventure?

    And the car, when I read it, didn't hit her?

    So, like the ancient oracles, the interpretation is in the mind of the beholder? And that's one of the things that makes this SUCH a good read! What fun.

    I agree that things begin a subtle shift, tho.


    Roslyn Stempel
    August 22, 1998 - 12:37 pm
    Ginny, I thought that the driver admitted hitting Amina, though "only a little bump." Since she was well-padded wouldn't it be surprising if a fall alone could have caused the fracture?

    What I've gleaned thus far from my reading in Nine Parts of Desire is that Muhammed himself was not responsible for all the proscriptions regarding women. His own behavior vis-a-vis women, including or perhaps especially his several wives, was quite different from the extended bans and prohibitions applied by his interpreters.

    It is difficult for me, looking from the outside at the complicated structure of Muslim religious practices, to judge what was "sin" and what was "faith." To do so would be merely to apply irrelevant standards. Remember that Yasin encouraged her (page 164) with his suggestion: "I haven't contravened any of the directives of the Prophet recorded in the revered collection of al-Bukhari." However, in this incident perhaps we can glimpse something about what happens when a terrifyingly authoritarian husband and father becomes the surrogate for Allah, so that to displease him is to displease the Almighty and Amina fears that she has sinned.


    August 22, 1998 - 12:51 pm
    Ros: another good post. I could swear the car missed her by inches, I must go reread it again.

    I do think we've got to know WHAT the tenets are. I mean, Pride, to give but one example, is a sin, or used to be, in the Roman Catholic church, but there are plenty of people who consider themselves of the Christian faith who don't think that way, and, indeed, have you ever seen a wedding announcement saying the parents are "proud to announce," (surely pride is not a sin in THEIR eyes) and that the wedding will take place IN a church???

    Always makes me think they may be relieved. I'm probably nit picking, what else is new? Anyway, it's interesting, but I could swear it states plainly the car never hit her.

    Will go look, what fun,


    August 23, 1998 - 07:50 am
    Hi All,

    Ginny and Ros:

    Here's my two cents worth on what happened to Amina. I went back to the text and this is what I understand from it.

    Amina's anxiety about her being out became so overwhelming that first she fainted face down on the ground. The car came afterwards. A spectator reported that "the left door of the vehicle hit her in the back" The driver stated that "I couldn't keep from hitting her, I quickly put on my brakes."

    Finally got hold of "Nine Parts…" and have started it. I also recommend a newly published book entitled "In Search Of Islamic Feminism,One Woman's Global Journey". It is also very well written. Now all I need is the time to read them all. The subject matter is highly provocative and brings new understanding to the subject of Islam and it's one billion followers and the western world's need to be more aware especially in light of today's geopolitical upheavals


    August 23, 1998 - 08:40 am
    Helen, I can't wait for you all to chime in here with what Islam is really about, from your readings.

    I've put up and intersperced some new "questions" in the heading, and also wonder what your impression is of both the exile and her return. I especially like Question #3.

    I guess I'm getting the car not hitting her from the top of page 171 in the paperback edition, "The driver was applying the brakes with a screeching sound, while the vehicle spewed a trail of dust and smoke. It came within a few inches of running over the prostrate woman, swerving just in time."

    But when a bystander accuses the driver, he does exclaim, "I couldn't keep from hitting her. I quickly put on my brakes, so I just grazed her...." so I don't know. I don't see how the left door of the vehicle could hit her in the back if she were prostrate unless the door were open. I just took that as mob hysteria, she's hit by a car.


    Eileen Megan
    August 23, 1998 - 10:33 am
    I’m very impressed by the posts on this book - excellent analyses, the research done, the contributions about life in Cairo today, the interest in exploring Islam.

    That being said, this discussion is not for a “casual” (lazy?) reader. The main reason I'm bowing out is the fact that I didn’t care for the book that much. I never “connected” with any of the characters - I feel that two things got in my way - the translation, which was hampered by the difficulty of translating the nuances of the original arabic - and possibly, just speculation, that the “black and white” characters are a device used by the author for his arabic audience but he never made them quite believable to me.

    Ginny, apropos of your remarks about “Gone With the Wind”, I read it in the late sixties and was appalled. I can’t quote chapter and verse but I recall that Mitchell’s description of the black butler’s joy at seeing Scarlett read more like a description of a dog wagging his tail - godawaful! In 1948 while living in Florida, I had a heated discussion with a young man studying to be a lawyer at Gainesville Univ. His response to my indignant question on the treatment of blacks was, “All the race riots are in the North - we know how to treat them here in the South”- wonder what he’d say today?

    Your comments about “The Good Earth” brought to mind a very interesting book, “Moment in Peking” by Lin Yutang, a really excellent picture of China in the teens and twenties . One reader described Yutang as the “oriental Tolstoy". There was an interesting tidbit in this book about a student revolt in Tiannemen Square in the twenties - history repeating itself.

    Well, enuf said! I will continue to read all the interesting comments, hopefully learning something along the way.

    Eileen Megan

    Irene Cornwell
    August 23, 1998 - 04:03 pm
    All, Have completed Palace Walk and was very surprised we weren't given Amina's and Kamals's repsonse to the final event. For me, the author's affection for both the mother and the youngest son was quite vivid. Did he omit their reaction to lead us into Palace of Desire. . the nest volume? As for Amina's exile. I just don't have a way to relate to such a direct disapproval. However, when I see the high divorce rate and single parenthood within our own culture. . are we not also exiling one another? And, how many children would yell for someone to bring back their father or their mother if it would bring that parent "home"? Sometimes, I think all cultures are afflicted in the same way but look for very disparent solutions! Irene

    Roslyn Stempel
    August 23, 1998 - 05:27 pm
    Eileen M, I agree that this is a difficult book to stick with. I did find it possible to do some skimming but I have also had to look back and find some details that I had jumped over before.

    As to the possibility of relating to, or identifying with, the characters, it would be interesting to have the reactions of English-speaking readers who were familiar with Arabic culture. In an essay I read about Mahfouz, the author describes the reaction of a young Egyptian woman to the heroine of another of Mahfouz's stories: She said, "That's me, that's my story!" So perhaps there are points in his writing that are truly foreign to us but very real to others?

    Anyway, I hope you'll continue to follow the discussion and maybe something will ring a chime later on.

    Irene, since our schedule has us a long way from the conclusion of the book it might not be entirely fair to discuss those shattering final events yet -- but to encourage others to go on reading and get to the end. However, since we know that the trilogy was completed before any part of it was published, you're probably correct that Mahfouz sought a suspenseful carryover to the next volume. It does leave us wondering, doesn't it?


    Irene Cornwell
    August 23, 1998 - 06:59 pm
    No, I didn't plan to discuss the event at the end. I was hoping it might entice people to keep reading! In the meantime, reading a story with such a contrasting historical setting, I feel, has made me a more aware person. . .and more curious. Irene

    Katie Jaques
    August 24, 1998 - 09:17 am
    I'm traveling and didn't bring Palace Walk with me (too heavy), but my recollection of the description of the incident where Amina was injured is that I thought it was intended to be ambiguous. Maybe the car hit her, and maybe it didn't. The fall itself may have caused the injury.

    Islam is as firmly monotheistic as Judaism, but I have read that Muhammad incorporated many of the pagan religious practices of the Bedouins and other Arab tribes into Islamic rituals. Some pagan shrines became Islamic holy places, just as the early Christians built churches in honor of various saints on the sites of pagan temples. A holy figure such as al-Husayn may have a status somewhat similar to that of a Christian saint, and might even incorporate some attributes of a pre-Islamic, local god.

    I'll take credit for discovering "Nine Parts of Desire." I was in a Borders store a few weeks ago and just happened to run across it, read it, and posted the info here. Yesterday I was at Barnes & Noble on the Plaza in Kansas City and picked up another book about Islam, also written by a Western journalist, that looks interesting. It is "Islam in the World," by Malise Ruthven, published in 1984. I happened to find it in trade paperback, remaindered out for $4! Ruthven was a writer and editor for the BBC's Arabic Service in London for several years, and at the time this book was written was a freelance writer and consultant on Middle East affairs. The focus of the book is to show the relationships between the formal doctrines of Islam (which it describes in some detail) and the ways in which Muslims live in the modern world.

    When I get home I intend to try Ginny's experiment with "Gone With The Wind"!

    Roslyn Stempel
    August 25, 1998 - 05:55 pm
    In this segment there's more action and also more openness about the family's feelings: The daughters must face the "terrifying and delicate situations" that arise as they give their father the intimate personal care previously provided by their mother. Everyone now acknowledges that "something must be done" but each child hesitates to be the agent until finally it is Kamal, the smallest, weakest, and least favored, who dares to beg his father to show mercy toward Amina. (Ironically, he is severely punished for his daring.)

    News of Amina's banishment has leaked out to the neighborhood and Ahmad receives the flirtatious blandishments of Maryam's mother and the brusque directness of the widow of Mr. Shawkat. The latter, whose social status is higher and who must be respected, reproaches him sarcastically and then imperiously confronts him with an offer he cannot disregard - her wish to have Aisha marry the younger Shawkat son.

    Now Ahmad -- pleased, flattered, and excited -- begins to realize that he must soften his punishment of his disobedient wife and chooses to see the workings of the deity in this turn of events. As he muses on page 230, "Who would believe that the unbearable state I'm in results from a blessing God has bestowed upon me?"

    Thus the authoritarian husband justifies backing down from his position: Insh'Allah, it is the will of God."


    August 26, 1998 - 04:10 am
    This section of the book is really astounding, to me, as it proves that not only is the Western reader (read: me) awash in a foreign culture and tradition and religious belief in this book, but so are the participants.

    The section where Umm Maryam comes to visit is a hoot. Our al-Ahmad can't quite get a handle on her. Why is she staring at him so? What does she mean? He can't decipher what's going on, the religious platitudes continue on the outside and the wild ragings of the mind continue as a counterpart on the inside. I love this section.

    If you live in a particular part of the US, you may have, strangely enough, encountered such little pockets of customs in some parts of THIS country. It's almost like a foreign land, in that the people of an area seem, sometimes, usually in very rural areas, to speak a different language. Everything in speech speaks volumes, even shifts of position, expressions, are to be interpreted, and are understood by the natives. It's up to the outsider, the interloper to interpret.

    In this situation, the hoot is that al-Ahmad is being trumped by his own system, and it leaves him bewildered.

    Right before my last trip, I saw an article on what NOT to do in different countries: don't point with one finger, use the entire hand, etc., etc., as this and then that is taken as offense.

    I also liked the part where the children went to get Amina and the old lady, no fool she, asked why ol al-Ahmad couldn't have come himself?

    Fahmy answered, "Grandmother, you know very well what my father's like."

    Now, what are we to make of Mahfouz's statements like this? If it is customary for Hanbali Muslims NOT to go personally after their own wives, why does the grandmother remark on it? Why didn't the son say, o, no, according to the Koran, or whatever?

    In this little section, to me, Mahfouz has shown a man struggling with his nature and the hypocrisy that not only shrouds him but nearly trips him, and what others really think of him. Wonder why Mahfouz didn't let us look into Umm Maryam's mind? Now THAT would have been interesting? What was she thinking when she stared at him?

    OH, I'd also like to say that our discussion is continuing thru September, and we're accummulating some wonderful suggestions for nominations for December in other folders. I think we'll want to throw it all up for grabs at the end of this month again, the Second Anniversary Party of the Books is almost FINISHED, with such wonderful surprises, you'll love it, and there's lots coming up.

    So if you've not read Palace Walk, you can get a jump start on the Ballad of Frankie Silver or Under the Tuscan Sun, and be ready to roll in October, and do keep checking here, there's a LOT in the wings trying to burst out of the bag. Meanwhile, I find this book has really influenced me. Every time I turn on the TV and see an Egyptian or any Muslim, I now feel I have more of a handle on what they think.


    Di in Colorado
    August 26, 1998 - 06:35 pm
    I've been wondering, was this book awarded the Nobel Prize after being read in the English translation or were there scholars who read it in the original language?

    Umm Di

    August 27, 1998 - 05:10 am
    Hahahahahh, Ummm Di! THAT'S a good question. Wonder how we can find out?


    Roslyn Stempel
    August 27, 1998 - 06:47 am
    Di, what an interesting question -- it sent me to the World Almanac after a few frustrating stabs at getting information on the Internet. (Sometimes hard copy is best.) The literature prize is not restricted to English-language works and the list in the almanac covers writers from many countries. I also noted in the head-matter for this discussion the reminder that the prize is awarded for a total body of work and not for a single publication. The prize was awarded to Mahfouz in 1988 and the English translation of Palace Walk didn't appear until 1990. By that time a number of his other works had already appeared in translation, beginning in 1966. He had been writing and publishing in Arabic since the early 1950's.

    Since you're signing yourself "Umm Di" does that mean your eldest daughter is also your namesake? I don't know what the rule is about the pseudo-honorific when there is more than one child and/or when the eldest is a girl. Only Umm Maryam seems to be titled as the mother of a female; the rest, I seem to recall without checking every page, are all Mother-of-male-child. (I called it a pseudo-honorific because for many of us that period of our lives when our principal identity was as Somebody's Mother gave rise to a certain petulance.)


    August 30, 1998 - 03:59 pm
    Just an aside to say that study that proved that people who tune into the Internet even as little as 2 hours a day and who were more depressed as a result, obviously never got near out Books folders.

    When I think of all the fun times and the sharing of ideas we've had here, well, I'm just so grateful for you all.

    I know it HELPS me, not hinders.


    Marge Stockton
    August 31, 1998 - 06:10 am
    I saw the report on that study, too. It sure doesn't match my experience. Of course that could be just because I don't have time to be depressed!

    August 31, 1998 - 07:33 am
    Just visiting folks! I agree--that study MUST have been flawed!

    Seniornet book clubbers are setting out to make a LIST! For more info and the opportunity to make suggestions of criteria for this LIST, check out the Library--A Conversation Nook TODAY!!!

    Eileen Megan
    August 31, 1998 - 08:41 am
    I read about that nutty study too - pish, tosh - they've never been in SeniorNet atall, atall - you couldn't find a busier, happier bunch of darlin' people!

    Eileen Megan

    August 31, 1998 - 12:59 pm
    Hi All,

    While I was noodling around the web last week, I came across the e-mail designation for a Professor of Islamic studies. I wrote to her and told her about our book club (no she didn't take me up on my invitation to visit). However she did give me the e-mail address of a fellow Prof. who has translated for and is a personal friend of none other than our guy, Naguib Mahfouz. Now I was wondering, if I am to e-mail him on behalf of our club, what questions would you like me to ask him to answer for us? Are you interested in trying this? Would you prefer I leave it alone?

    Would like to know what you think. After all is said and done there are no guarantees he will repond in the affirmative, but I think it's worth a try.

    Have finished the first volume of the trilogy and must say I found it thoroughly engrossing. I am connected to the characters in that I do care about them and what happens to them. I am immersed in the culture,the political scene and can't wait to find out what happens next. I find that I have taken off the beginner's glasses that kept seeing this culture by comparing it to our own and making judgements that just don't work in light of their world at that point in history or today for that matter. I absolutely agree with Ginny about being more in touch and ever more questioning of the news events concerning Islam. I am eager to learn about how the culture has evolved and am trying to do so when time permits.

    Those of you who have read the rest of the trilogy...does it hold up? Do the folowing volumes compare favorably?



    Marge Stockton
    August 31, 1998 - 01:24 pm
    Helen, I'd say go for it!!! What's there to lose? If I were to talk to Mahfouz himself, I would wish to get at his views on Western culture, on the repression of women in Islamic culture and whether he sees it continuing thus indefinitely, on changes in Islamic and Egyptian culture over the years since he wrote the Cairo trilogy, and on his outlook for the future as regards Islamic / Western relations. If the professor can help us "get inside Mahfouz' head", that would be great!

    August 31, 1998 - 02:43 pm
    Helen, how exciting! Yes, please go for it, what shall we ask? Wonder if he'd care to come in here and address us?

    Questions: let me think over night on mine, am not very swift today,how exciting.

    I came IN here to say that there are some very powerful quotes from this section in the heading, would appreciate everybody's take on them, also the schedule for the rest of September is up.

    There'a a lot coming up, Jeryn has a new t-shirt design just in time for our Second Anniversary, the Party will be the 3rd of October,with lots of fun and games and prizes and trivia, the next Win a Book Contest will be THIS SATURDAY, and you can choose ANY book selected by ANY club here on SeniorNet, we've an election coming up, a new mystery here on the 1st of October, we're making our OWN list of the 100 Best Books in the Library, and all of a sudden, everything's taking off!!

    Hooray for Helen and us all!


    August 31, 1998 - 02:58 pm
    Helen, please ask the Professor for thoughts about the translation. Some have felt it a bit stilted. Is this from the original type of writing and the translators trying to be faithful to it? - as I understand different cultures have different flows in their literature.

    September 1, 1998 - 04:39 am
    Here's something Boots found and I've only put it here and in the Library, so please pass the word and vote, if you like. We're not doing too well, but WE didn't know about it!

    To vote, you hit the click down box of any and all you want to rate, but then you go up to the top of the screen to cast your vote.

    In the fine print of their rules they say IF YOU VOTE MORE THAN ONCE A DAY THEY THROW BOTH OUT!

    Here it is, spread the word!

    Vote for Senior Site

    This courtesy of Boots:"> Boots Tids and Bits who encourages everyone to come see her Surprise Site!

    September 1, 1998 - 05:44 am
    As far as Helen's professor goes, I'm interested in anything and everything he has to say. I'd like to know how Mahfouz IS, at the moment, how he is perceived today by his countrymen, and whether his startling insights into the mind of women in his culture have done anything: produced any changes in Egypt. That is, is Mahfouz being credited with any social changes?

    Is he considered their greatest writer?

    Why was there an attack on his life?

    Anything and everything, I'd like to hear.


    Roslyn Stempel
    September 1, 1998 - 06:19 am
    Helen, congratulations on your research. It seems to me that it would be an excellent idea for you to approach this professor. Whether you should do it as an individual or "officially" in the name of the Book Club is in the end for you to decide. Possibly a good compromise would be to submit your questions as an individual while explaining that you are engaged in inquiry and discussion as a member of a group. This would clarify the informal and pro bono nature of any response or elucidation you expected from the professor.


    Charlotte J. Snitzer
    September 2, 1998 - 09:17 am
    Well I'm back from time out in Cleveland and have so many notes It's hard to catch up.

    I wonder about the behavior of the family after the accident to the mother. Do they feel they have to act this way to show they care? I think this type of behavior is more upsetting than reassuring. Of course the father's reaction is abomnible.

    I also note that Amina fell before the car arrived. I do not think the car actually hit her, although the by-standers seemed to want to make it case against the driver. And why does everyone shout at each other and urge Aminia to lie to her husband?

    As for religious duties: Why does Amina's mother keep such close watch on the activities of her servant. She considers it "both a form of worship and a reward."(p.205). At one point she tells the servant "a new watchman has come to discover your thefts. (page 207)

    The men are egocentric, think only of themselves and how they appear to the rest of society. The women are of little moment to them. And Yasin--seeing his mother for the first time in eleven years is only worried about money and his reputation!

    I think Kamal is the only character I can have sympathy for. He's a sweet boy who tries to teach his mother whatever he learns.

    I know we should look at this for the kind of society it is and for the time it which it was written, but I can't help bringing my own feelings and the time and society in which I live.


    September 3, 1998 - 05:44 am
    Hello everyone! Well, it's official! The Seniornet LIST of Personal Favorite Novels of Enduring Significance is open for nominations! Visit The Library--A Conversation Nook and read the new header for directions. Then let's see those lists come pouring in!
    Oh Boy! This is going to be fun!

    September 3, 1998 - 05:07 pm
    Sent an e-mail to Professor Allen at the University of Pennsylvania a day or two ago and this is his most gracious response,received today.

    I am delighted to get your message. I have just returned to town for the start of the new academic year. Thus, I will get to some of your questions, although most of them require at least one, and often more than one, book to deal with! The best response that I'll be able to give you in most cases is to send you to yet more written sources, since there are--of course--no simple answers to most of your questions. This message then is simply to open contact. I'll be sending you more information as time becomes available.


    September 3, 1998 - 05:31 pm
    Helen: Certainly a gracious answer from Professor Allen...

    September 4, 1998 - 06:43 am
    What a guy! I knew we'd have a great response from him: I've always been heartened by the open, friendly, and truly kind responses I've received from my innumerable pestering of various departments in the local universities. The bigger they are, it seems the kinder and more helpful.

    Great! Thanks, so much, our Helen, keep us posted!!

    The "shouting" that Charlotte mentions is really a big issue with me, too. I do want to know whether this is a normal behavior or whether it's a translation glitch. Do the Egyptians constantly shout at each other? Charlotte, I love your posts, always something to think about.I missed that about the servant, will go look again. If it weren't for the Book Club I'd miss a lot, I fear.

    I've been pondering the issue of who is stronger as presented to us as is in this book. I've been pondering the issue of plot, I keep seeing the plot thru Amina's eyes. Her life. Yet I see a plot thread thru our al-Sayyid, too.

    Many plots. Which is the main plot, and which the sub plot?

    It's obvious this is a great book, and I don't want to leave it without even knowing WHAT the plot is?

    Pat, do you want to tell us a little about your correspondence with Carrie?


    September 4, 1998 - 04:53 pm

    There isn't much to report about my letter... I asked the questions that Ginnie wanted answered.. I had about given up hope of hearing from her.  Our contact was mostly at Christmas time.. Since she was brought up a Disciple of Christ, (we went to the same church at U of IL) and gave up her religion when she married, I always sent a fancy card for Christmas, with a long letter about children and grandchildren.

    Well, anyway,  I had a letter from Caryn, her daughter, saying her mother had died in April..'98... very suddenly of lung cancer. Carrie had been a heavy smoker in college and Caryn said she never quit.  However, Carrie did not allow her daughter or son to smoke.

    Caryn spent summer holidays with her Grandmother here in the States and she said their life was not a whole lot different that in the States..  She attended an American school and her two boys now attend the same school, mostly for Americans in Cairo.

    Caryn's husband is a geologist for Royal Dutch and was educated at Texas A&M.  She described her life which seemed not too different from ours... No veils, 1 wife most generally, and most western type clothing with Egyptian influence (her words).  The big thing her boys want for Christmas, which they celebrate since her husband is a Christian, are some baggy jeans.

    In my letter to Carrie, I gave my email address, which I had never thought to include before.  Caryn said they did not have access to the Internet, but both boys have their own computers.

    Something else interesting.  When Caryn was married about 12 years ago, I remember Carrie saying that she was marrying a 4th cousin with the same last name.. She joked about keeping the 'oil' in the family.

    Pat / IL

    September 5, 1998 - 05:57 am
    It is of great interest to me to see how when Aisha's marriage is announced we are privy to each family member's emotions regarding the upcoming nuptuals and how they differ .

    Isn't it interesting to read about the bride's reaction. "She would not be part of the destiny of the young man for whom her heart had yearned." " To announce her her happiness with a suitor…would be a wanton affront to modesty. It would have been inconceivable to express a desire for some specific man"

    Aisha knew nothing about the man she was to marry except for a few general things her mother had mentioned,yet she was "Happy beyond words… "Even if one man was disqualified and another took his place, she was satisfied and everything was fine.

    In a time and place when these expectations were the norm, I wonder how the majority of these marriages turned out . After all not only was the woman getting married, but she was leaving her family to go to an unknown husband and become a live in member of his unfamiliar family. It did not seem real to me that Aisha's concerns and anxiety about this huge life change were not presented to us as part of her thinking.

    How concerned every member of the family felt towards Kadijas' huge disappointment and how each in their own way showed her their great affection. But each had to rationalize the letting it happen…something I know we are all familiar with. In the end Kadija herself was able to rationalize it so that she too could live with it.

    And what about the growing unrest of the political scene ? It starts out slowly and you can feel how it is mounting into something that will continue to snowball as we move along.

    Exciting times.

    September 5, 1998 - 06:55 am
    Pat, that's so interesting, thanks so much for sharing that, I'm so sorry to hear of the death of your friend.

    It's also interesting that Carrie reports all is like Western life, except, usually one wife... Unless you're a Mormon, I think most people here only have one spouse! hahahaha or wife, at least.

    Thanks so much for that, it's interesting. As much as I've traveled, I've found people pretty much assured their lives are similar to if not better than what we have here in America, yet I myself see such profound differences. We really ought to read Not Without My Daughter . That would really shake us up, I think.

    I agree with Helen also in that I WAS disappointed in the lack of Aisha's emotions concerning the coming marriage, I had put it down to her relief at getting out of the house? Now, why, I wonder??

    That's ONE situation where more than one wife could come in handy. If the arranged marriage did NOT work out and the wife would rather the husband had other things to occupy his time with while keeping her status, it would work well. Amina doesn't seem to feel that way, and al-Sayyid only has the one present wife, tho why is a mystery, to me.

    Somewhere it says that the more he comes to know a woman the less he admires them, maybe that's why he's kept only the one wife.

    Wasn't there a time in the US, I think I asked this before, when the oldest sister had to get married first before the younger ones could? In the frontier? Or am I mixed up there?

    Whose story IS this? If it's Amina's, then we've got her normal happy existence, the venture out and the fall, the horrid exile, the return, the discovery of her husband's flings revealed by the singer and her subsequent disillusionment.....and that's as far as we've gone.

    If it's al-Sayyid's, we've got his duplicitious life, his warning by the religious man of sins, his discovery by his son, his shame at his wife's wandering, his temptation with his neighbor, his embarrassment by the singer, and over all, his need for control.

    The political scene is boiling in the background, as Helen said, and is about to overtake them all. I don't think the children are the protagonists, and if I could decide WHO is, then I could have the book itself in more order, as it's a grand book, almost an epic, but even epics have plots.


    September 5, 1998 - 02:46 pm
    Pat: Please excuse my omission. It must have come as a shock to you to learn of the death of your friend.

    Ginny: I think I remember reading that Ahmad did not have more than one wife as he did not wish to have to... Here I found it... ...He had not forgotten the example of his father , who had slipped inadvertently into a succession of marriages that squandered his fortune and caused him many problems. It goes on to say that he was tempted more than once (to take another wife) but had been left only a negligible amount of money from dear old dad and his own earned money provided him with all the extra curricula entertainment he needed to meet his personal pleasures.

    Yes I do know of other cultures where it was and still is desireable for the elder daughter to marry first...that's fairly common.

    Can't it be the story of a family. I see each of them as important parts of this "epic" if you will. When I think about each member of the family they appear to be equally interesting to me. Each has has his/her role in the society. When I think of leaving any one of them out...something important is missing is terms of the story line. They each teach us something about life in this culture at this point in history.

    Irene Cornwell
    September 5, 1998 - 07:08 pm
    Yes, I have been curious about the lack of a clear central hero. Are we simply accustomed to this focus in western fiction? It's rather like watching "High Noon" with everyone's fate equal. Mahfouz's description of his characters makes them very real. .I feel I know them. But I am sometimes puzzled. I should greatly dislike Yasim and yet because both his father and step-mother seem to expect his failings. . .I surprise myself and expect them too! Irene

    Roslyn Stempel
    September 6, 1998 - 08:48 am
    Ginny has asked, "Whose story is this?" and Helen has answered very wisely.

    Mahfouz has used two devices which are common throughout world literature and which are perfectly legitimate if we think about them: multiple viewpoints, and the omniscient offstage narrator.

    Initially, we were led into the story by Amina as she waited for her husband to return from his nightly revels. The first part of the book is seen through her eyes. Very gradually the viewpoint begins to shift: We have a glimpse into the father's mind and into those of the sons and daughters. Increasingly, the author moves the reader into the consciousness of each important character.

    Soon, we can begin to notice judgmental comments that could only come from the "omniscient offstage observer," the author. Then, too, it becomes necessary -- as historical events and social changes move from background to foreground -- for Mahfouz to act as narrator.

    Who, then, is the "hero"? Who is the "central character"? I would be tempted to answer that there is no hero, at least not in this volume. This is the story of a family within a particular culture that was at the point of undergoing great change. We begin with Amina, for the mother represents the spark of light that is at the functional center of the family structure. As the light spreads we are allowed to see the other family members and the tangential characters who affect their lives. Eventually, in the other volumes, those who loom largest here will diminish in importance.

    Perhaps this interpretation disqualifies the book as an epic. However, when Alice said about the book her older sister was reading, "What is the use of a book without pictures or converstaion?" she didn't immediately follow by asking, "What is the use of a book without a hero?" So be comforted, Ginny.


    September 6, 1998 - 09:01 am
    Now, Roslyn, that was poetic! No wonder you like poetry. So we CAN have a book without a central hero?

    I was just thinking before coming in here that English Majors are like the Police, never around when you need one! hahahhah NOW we know. So the family is the plot line. Is there a term for that?

    Irene, I too have come under Mahfouz's spell, and that's why I'd really like to know what he was intending with his portrayal of Amina, and maybe now thanks to Helen and the Professor, we can find out!

    Also, if you're interested in voting, SeniorNet is now #2 in this site:

    Top Ten Sites for Seniors

    If you vote, only do so once in 24 hours, as they throw everything else out. To vote, look for the Click Here to Vote at the top left of the selections.


    September 6, 1998 - 04:15 pm
    Our most generous Professor Allen has sent me the following message. I hope you guys are all ready to chew on it and comment. I hopefully will do the same. I would like to be able to give him some feedback about our reactions to his text and show our appreciation for his immediate responsiveness to our request.

    Here's the first part of my reply to your list of inquiries. It concerns the translation of PALACE WALK. In fact, I have already written a lengthy article on this subject, in the academic journal, EDEBIYAT (New series, Vol. 4 no. 1 [1993]: 87-117)--how's that for an academic side-step! Any of you who are close to a university or college with a Middle East program and a really good library (Boston, New York, Washington, Chicago, etc.) should be able to get hold of it.

    In my article I am quite critical of the English translation (by contrast, the FRENCH translation, IMPASSE DES DEUX PALAIS, is much better, I think). Firstly, the title: The original Arabic title is the name of a street in the older quarters of Cairo. In reading novels set in Paris, when did you last hear about a street called "the Elysian Fields" ?! PALACE WALK, in a word, suggests Jane Austen to me, more than MAHFOUZ.

    The other major problem with PALACE WALK as an English text concerns the conventions of dialogue. Mahfouz, quite frankly, has not yet fully mastered the play between actual dialogue and interior monologue in his original novel(s), and the translation only succeeds in confusing things. To be fair, Mahfouz honed this particular feature of dialogue-writing in his later novels. Which leads to another important point, namely that the TRILOGY, and thus PALACE WALK, belong to a middle period in MAHFOUZ's career, not to his most mature phase; he's still working on his craft as we read.

    PALACE WALK reads like so many lengthy novelistic sagas that try to be "realistic" (and that, of course, is part of its appeal to a Western readership, including the Nobel Committee...the different, the other, the exotic Orient even): each chapter has to set time and place very clearly, and the one or other of the large set of characters moves one aspect or other of the plot further ahead. Thus does the narrative move slowly but inexorably ahead, the primary governing force being time itself.

    In a sense, the 1988 Nobel Prize awards Mahfouz for writing--in 1950-52 (published in 1956-57)--a set of novels in Arabic that replicate the style and achievements of many European examples of the nineteenth century novel...


    September 6, 1998 - 04:19 pm
    I love this man! Have copied out his post and MUST get that article! Alas, am far from a university with a Middle East Program, or am I?

    Everybody go look!! More later, I especially would like to know about the "shouting." I must say, just reading that little bit from Professor Allen makes me long to hear more.


    Irene Cornwell
    September 6, 1998 - 08:39 pm
    All, I love the insights! One thing this author seems remarkable at is allowing me to know this family. I have mental pictures of each member. .down to their faces and voice tone. Aisha seems to belong in "Little Women". . I keep expecting her to turn up in one of those long full dresses. And, yes, Amina seems to be fading as the family coffee hour fades , , , when all the children are grown and on their own. What then? Irene

    Roslyn Stempel
    September 7, 1998 - 09:23 am
    How exciting to have the comments of a bona fide scholar regarding Palace Walk. I am a bit puzzled about the Professor's criticism of the title, since he doesn't suggest a more informal one. Is "Impasse des deux Palais" an improvement? Contemporary maps don't seem to suggest anything different.

    I've just been re-reading, or perhaps I should admit I've been skimming through, that Norwegian Nobel blockbuster of 1929, Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter, a three-volume family saga set in 14th-century Norway. The translation is heavy with archaism, and many a sentence begins with "'Twas." There's loads of plot, a huge cast of characters, and quite a bit of sex (swathed in euphemisms), blood, and pageantry. In short, a tapestry, as they used to call this kind of historical novel. However, the stiffness of the language makes it rather heavy going. The dust-jacket is adorned with reverential comments, and certainly the richness of its historic background makes that trilogy noteworthy. Comparison to Mahfouz and "Palace" were impossible to resist.

    I think the Professor's comments about the Nobel awards and the way the committee considers them are apt. We should bear in mind, as I believe has been noted in the headmatter from the beginning, that the Nobel Prize is awarded for a contribution to literature and on the basis of an author's total body of work. "Palace" is not a Nobel-Prize-winning novel but an early novel by a Nobel-Prize-winning author. ( We shouldn't confuse this, for example, with the "Caldecott" and "Newbery" stickers on children's books which indicate that a particular work has been singled out for recognition.) Perhaps, too, one might be tempted to ponder the intrinsic value of recognition-by-committee, such as has led to the enormous excitement over everyone's Hundred Best Books and the many ways to pick them.


    September 7, 1998 - 09:56 am
    Professor Allen indicates even the title could have been better translated into English! But wait, that might not be a failing of the translators but the wish of the publisher who might have arbitarily chosen a title that they thought would catch the public's eye.

    Professor Allen commented on the chapters of the book, and I had noticed that too. Neat little sections of a few pages each. Nicely done.

    The author has a way of describing that puts you right there, yet sometimes all at once there is a surprising distance. Even at the start, with Amina (page 2) comes the words: "She seemed to be in a hurry as she wrapped her veil about her and headed for the door to the balcony." Why not keep the feeling of being right there by saying "She quickly wrapped her vail about her and headed for the door...."? Is this the author or the translator? At any rate, I have noticed it several times.

    September 8, 1998 - 07:33 am
    I have a question for Dr. Allen, then I want to come back in here and add my thoughts to yours. I have gone nuts trying to find a copy locally of Edebiyat. Have called 4 college libraries. No good.

    I note some references to it on the Internet, but don't read half those languages. Does Dr. Allen know where we could get our hands on a copy? Wonder if he has one and we could impose on him to mail it? Or is that asking too much? I really would like to read it.


    September 8, 1998 - 05:13 pm
    HI All,

    Ginny: Started to do a search for the EDEBIYAT but I am afraid I don't have the time it requires. However, I did send off an e-mail request to Columbia University to see if they could be of any help. They appear to have an enormous collection as does Harvard,Durham and I forgot the names of the others. Don't know if they will respond or not...will just wait and see. Wish I had the time...I love the search! Maybe you will find it or someone else out there who enjoys a good search, will come up with it.

    September 9, 1998 - 06:15 am
    I'm now obsessed with reading this article, I think it will provide clues to the things puzzling me. For instance, this "the man, the woman" issue mentioned in the Discussion Topics. Is this a glitch of translation? Is this Mahfouz himself? What is meant by it?

    On page 422 when our al-Sayyid, at the end of page 421, "could not see straight, he was so alarmed and angry..." is turning over the events revealed to him about Fahmy...suddenly, we get "The man was more alarmed than he had every been before, even more than during the melee at the mosque."

    Now, it's obvious that our boy al-Sayyid is threatened here. What is NOT obvious is why Mahfouz has chosen to use "the man," thus drawing US out and away in feeling from THE MAN himself. Why is this done? I don't think we can draw any conclusions until we find out what the proper translation is, or whether Mahfouz intended this?

    I am in awe of anyone who can read this in the original; would like to know.


    September 9, 1998 - 11:18 am
    Hi Obsessed and all you other search detectives:

    This is the response I received from the library at Columbia University.

    I'm sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Unfortunately, our holdings of the journal Edebiyat do not include new series, vol. 4 (1993). We have new series vols. 1-3 and 5-7. I checked other catalogs and it looks like it may be available at the Bobst Library at NYU. Perhaps you can try borrowing it from them.

    Butler Reference Columbia University

    Checked out the Bobst Library site and it isn't working.

    Unfortunately or fortunately the rest of my work day calls me now so i have to give this up.

    To answer your question, yes they are all on line (the university libraries) not all are accessible without a proper card. However at Columbia I was able to get my request in by E-mail and received a prompt response.

    You'll find Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth...all the biggies are there.

    Good hunting. Until much later tonight.


    Charlotte J. Snitzer
    September 9, 1998 - 03:52 pm
    To support my previous post that this is a dysfunctional family:

    The author tells us that “anger is nothing of the ordinary for this family. “ The only time they attempt to control it is in the presence of the father who monopolizes for himself all the rights to anger. “He allowed himself liberties he did not permit any of his family.”

    “Lying was not considered contemptible or shameful in this household. Living in their father’s shadow, none of them would have been able to enjoy any peace without the protection of a lie.”

    I see Ahmad as a pretty impossible man. He grants Amina permission to visit Aisha and to take Khadija with her, but gives it with a final curse. “She knew it came from his lips and not his heart. He was like a mother cat devouring her kittens when she is actually carrying them.”

    He also looks at Maryam’s mother as a sex object. “The closer she got to his heart, the further she was removed from his respect.”

    He allows that Yasin has a right to the rapes of the servants and tells him that he should have beaten Zaynab for not behaving and obeying as a woman should. Amina also sees nothing wrong with Yasin’s enjoying his pleasures and doesn’t understand why Zaynab complains. When Zaynab tries to discuss her problems with Yasin he says, “Men have an absolute right to do anything they want and women a duty to obey and abide by the rules.” She runs away and demands a divorce. She does the right thing.

    Fahmy is trying to change things. He is cooperating with the revolutionaries and wants to get rid of the English so that Egypt can institute a self-determining government. He stands up to his father and refuses to swear on the Koran that he will not participate in the cause in which he believes. Good for him. But while the father and his friends support the idea of expelling the English, they will do nothing about it.

    Yasin finally proves he has some humanity in his reactions to his mother’s illness.

    Kamal realizes that the English are humane and makes friends with them. He is a sweet little boy.

    I still think Mafouz is a great writer. He is showing us the society as it was during those years. I think many of these attitudes must still persist and find it very disturbing.


    September 9, 1998 - 08:03 pm
    Charlotte: It's easy to see that your feelings have really been stirred up by the each of the members of this family. Don't you feel as if you know each and every one of them.

    The following is from Professor Allen to us and your lead in is just right for the following text.

    PART II:

    How has Egypt changed in recent years?

    The short answer is: beyond all recognition (and I was there for the first time in 1963).

    In the first place, the June War of 1967 was disastrous for the Arab World as a whole, and for Egypt in particular. There was almost a complete loss of a sense of self-identity, and a profound search into the past for meaning and precedents. What did it mean to be an Arab, and what were the basic values that had so obviously gone astray to bring the Arab World/Egypt to this point?

    Beyond that, President Nasser died in 1970, and Anwar al-Sadat came to power. It is little known in the Western world that Sadat was the darling of the West, but was almost universally loathed in his own country; his funeral was attended by the party faithful, but the streets were virtually empty (in contrast with the millions who clogged the streets for Nasser's funeral). The primary reason for Sadat's unpopularity in Egypt, I believe, is what led Mahfouz to loathe Sadat too. Sadat demolished the socialist system under which Egypt had been at least able to keep its people relatively well fed (in 3rd world terms, at least), and introduced Western capitalism without any social safeguards or warnings. The result has been that the rich have become grotesquely wealthy, the middle class has mostly become either gross entrepreneurs (a few) or else has joined the poor (the majority). This has led to a noticeable split in Egyptian society--needless to say, and the results of this situation are the primary topic of the novels that Mahfouz wrote in the 1970s and '80s (most of which are not very good in my opinion).

    That there should have been an upsurge in popular Islamic movements during this time is surely hardly surprising! When the International Monetary Fund tells your government how much they are to charge as the price of basic commodities like bread and rice and when your economy and culture seem to be permanently beholden to another "superior" culture, a search for alternatives is the only means of consolation. For many people in Asia and Africa (and, one might suggest, the United States too), Islam--as a religion, but more as a cultural system--IS that alternative. The money that popular Islamic groups (the term "fundamentalist" often used in this context doesn't really work) receive from abroad certainly helps foster their communal and spiritual activities, but the need for them is already there. I visit Egypt at least once a year, and one of the more amazing things for me in recent times has been to discover that the major administrators of those popular religious groups in Egypt are not rabid trouble-makers; they're lawyers, doctors, and businessmen, all united in their sense that there must be another way, one that doesn't involve never-ending dependence on the West and continuing "backwardness" when viewed by Western(ized) standards.

    As you probably know, Mahfouz was knifed by a member of one such religious group in 1994 (on the anniversary of his Nobel Award, October 13th). While he now writes some newspaper columns, his fictional career is essentially over.


    I am so impressed with the kindness and friendliness of this man. He has made himself accessible and has promised to send us a piece on the woman's role in Egypt, as his time permits.

    I will be away in D.C. for a long week-end. Will tune in on my return. Have fun searching and discussing. Will the elusive volume of the EDEBIYET be found?

    Irene Cornwell
    September 9, 1998 - 09:53 pm
    All, What a treasure Prof Allen is! To learn about an author just as you are reading his works is a unique opportunity. About the "family". . .I know there are cultural differences but I have found similarities to our lives as well. Certainly many people present one face to the public arena and another one at home. .also fathers are often proud of their son's sexual adventures and yet protective of their own daughters. . .I grew up hearing "don't let your father know" about anything going wrong. . a rather subtle form of not being totally truthful. Also, the tension between mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws. . . .the double standard on the status of becoming a lawyer or a teacher. All these things seem present in varying intensity in our own society. Also, No. I didn't know the author had been stabbed. .did I miss this information? How is his recovery?

    September 10, 1998 - 03:34 am
    Wow, this is great, and Professor Allen's latest info opens up an entire new Pandora's box: Islam. The fractured society of Egypt. Fascinating. A million more questions.

    So true, Irene, about lying in families: not generic to Egypt, for sure.

    Isn't this fun?

    I may have found Edebiyat! Am waiting now to see if they have that particular issue on hand, if so, they'll ship and I'll mount it on an HTML page since Dr. Allen doesn't seem to mind our reading it, and post it here. Maybe, maybe by the weekend.

    Goes to Egypt once a year. Wow. I surely didn't know that about Sadat, am amazed. Wonder if there's a parallel with what's going on in Russia?


    Roslyn Stempel
    September 10, 1998 - 06:30 am
    Professor Allen's response to Helen's question is frank and enlightening. Perhaps it will encourage us to entertain the startling notion that the American way is not the only way and that, political and religious considerations aside, the attempt to impose American standards and create ever-increasing worldwide markets for the products of America's consumer economy is not entirely welcome and perhaps, in the end, not entirely wise.

    I hope we are to have some fuller explanation of the role and purpose of the administrators of the Islamic movements. From what we have learned in our readings, I see the correctness of Professor Allen's point that these are not really "fundamentalists," but is there a more nearly exact term? And if they are peacefully inclined, what is the origin of the violent activities that have occurred in their name?

    I think this is a digression from our consideration of Palace Walk as a work of literature, but if in the end we are better informed and better able to think clearly about the situation in the Middle East, it can surely be a valuable digression.


    Charlotte J. Snitzer
    September 10, 1998 - 09:03 am

    What insightful quotes from Prof. Allen. Just because Comunism has been defeated, doesn't mean that Capitalism is the answer. The U.S. and many other countries have to explore new ways to meet the needs and desires of their people. Hope we hear more from Allen, especially about the role of women.


    September 10, 1998 - 01:10 pm
    AND.....I got it. Yes, they mailed it today, they had it, and when it comes I'll scan it in as a clickable in the heading, and if you care to read the article, you'll know a lot more about the translation of Palace Walk .



    September 10, 1998 - 05:47 pm
    Haven't even packed yet but had to come in and look at your posts of today. Yes Ros, I so agree that our learning is extending far beyond the pages of the book

    Ginny Congratulations on finding the documents

    Am off and away until next week. Have a marvelous post for you about women for when I return. (From the Professor of course!)

    Charlotte J. Snitzer
    September 11, 1998 - 08:45 am
    Hi all:

    I just found this quote in the New Yorker. It's from Elizabeth Cady Stanton's Women's Bible.

    She wrote:

    The Bible teaches that woman brought sin and death into the world, that she precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgement seat of Heaven, tried, condemned and sentenced. Marriage for her was to be a condition of bondage, maternity a period of suffering and anguish, and in silence and subjection, she was to play the role of a dependent on man's bounty for all her material wants.

    So-- it looks as if this attitude is endemic in much of 19th century society not only in that of which Mafouz writes.


    September 12, 1998 - 07:14 am
    Huh. That's interesting, Charlotte, just heard the other day of a country in which women have had the vote only a few years, can't remember which it is. So it's sort of an age old problem, in some religions. The Muslims wouldn't have the Adam and Eve story, tho, would they? I know the Indian's don't: in India, I mean.

    Tomorrow we'll start the last of our thoughts on Palace Walk, but we can open another discussion for the voting and the ratings so that we can keep it going here just a bit: long enough certainly to hear Professor Allen's thoughts. We can run both, I'm trying to say.

    Meanwhile, you all might want to be thinking of the November book you'd like to read, and getting ahead with the Frankie Silver, what a contrast!

    Or is it?

    I'll just go out on a limb here and say that IF Mahfouz intended the translation to read , "The man...." when describing al-Sayyid at his most upset, then I think he's trying to draw back into what Ros called the omniscient narrator, and I think he's doing it for a reason.

    I think he's drawing attention, by putting that space in there between the reader and the emotions of al-Sayyid, to the fact that al-Sayyid is NOT what he should be. It's a judgment call, in my opinion.


    Eileen Megan
    September 12, 1998 - 12:06 pm
    I recently finished "Mountolive" by Lawrence Durrell which takes place in Egypt. The following rang a bell with me in regard to Ahmed's religious thinking. It's about a particularly nasty character:

    "He was morbidly superstitious and incurably venal-and indeed was building an immense fortune upon bribery; yet religiosity - a fanatical zeal of observance which might have been puzzling in anyone who was not an Egyptian."

    One last general comment on this book, the story did not grip my attention until the last part of the book. The character of Fahmy especially came to life for me.

    Eileen Megan

    Irene Cornwell
    September 12, 1998 - 07:01 pm
    As does Kamal in the second volume (Palace of Desire)and Yasim's son in the third book. Sugar Street). The author has a very definite generational approach and seems to become suddenly interested in a single character. . .never the women. As I read the other volumes, I missed Amina's strong presence which certainly the early part of Palace Walk featured. I do thank the book club for starting me on this journey. A specific question. For those of you who have reached the final happening. . .wasn't that a quiet and unique description of "last moments alive" and very effective. Irene

    September 14, 1998 - 06:03 am
    Irene: how wonderful that you've read ON in the series, I'm wondering about the end of the book myself: are we to consider this just a blip in the all over picture of the lives of the family or is Mahfouz telling us something here?

    When Charlotte actually quoted those lines, it really reinforced for me what I think Mahfouz is saying.

    This is our wrap up week, but we can still review here Professor Allen's comments and feed back and we can open another Book Club Online for our ratings and voting for the new book.

    And I do hope you ALL will read The Ballad of Frankie Silver as we've had a very very hard time in the past discussing mysteries, and I hope our Book Club Online will not let us down. If it does, it'll be the first time we haven't had a wonderful discussion here.

    Still watching the mailbox for the Edebiyat translation article.


    Roslyn Stempel
    September 14, 1998 - 07:04 am
    Irene, yes - without disclosing the details, I thought it was subtle and beautifully written. Events pile up so fast in that last section that I had to go back and read it over to pick up loose ends. In a certain way I think Mahfouz has "written out" Amina from the script, and since you have read the other two volumes you know that the story spreads to other family members. Quite a few surprises there, too, do you agree?

    I had read Palace Walk before, but this exciting and enriching discussion has made me seek out the remaining two volumes of the trilogy as well as some of Mahfouz's shorter works.

    As for The Ballad of Frankie Silver, there are many promising possibilities for discussion. It does have a theme; McCrumb mentions it in the afterword but you will discover it as you read. I think readers should know going in that it is not a simple whodunit and - though it's not what I would call profound - it is more serious than some of McCrumb's other books. My personal feeling is that if we treat her idea respectfully I think there can be some productive exchanges.


    Irene Cornwell
    September 14, 1998 - 09:51 pm
    Ginny, By not relating the family response to the final action in the first volume, the author led me to be curious about the secons volume. The same happens at its end. . and I was led to the third. . .which I am now reading. Roslyn, I agree. I almost felt re-introduced to some of the characters while reading the second novel, or I certainly was treated to detail and motivation not given before. Surprises, YES. It is certainly hard to find a clear "hero". . .or to dicern the author's true feeling about love. It seems to vere between ideal love and base love! But, I am rambling, I know. Thank you all for the company. I hadn't read fiction in years (I was stuck on biographies) and this has been wonderful. Irene

    September 15, 1998 - 04:53 am
    Irene: I do think that's one of the joys of our book groups: not only do you read things you'd not ordinarly have even heard of or be interested in, but, through the input of the other members of the group and their comments, you branch farther afield and, most of the time, get a great deal out of one book. It's interesting that in three books Mahfouz has kept the same vagueness about WHO is the protagonist and WHAT Mahfouz really intends to say.

    I wonder if I were Egyptian reading in Arabic, if I would sort of instantly "know" what he meant? Sometimes meaning is conveyed through more than words.

    Still running to the mailbox daily to get the shipped article in Edebiyat by Professor Allen, which is 30 pages strong!~


    Roslyn Stempel
    September 15, 1998 - 05:48 am
    Irene's comment about not ordinarily reading fiction returned my thoughts to our next selection, The Ballad of Frankie Silver. It has a nonfiction aspect which will disabuse you of the thought, "Oh, no, not another whodunit!" McCrumb has frequently introduced factual and historic material as background for her plots, and here some of it becomes foreground as well.


    September 15, 1998 - 02:15 pm
    Hi All, Just got back after a wonderfully,(but scorchingly hot) long week-end in D.C. Can you imaging that we just happened to take a tour of the White House this week-end.

    I wanted to get the following information to you before I get busy with household things. Somehow I didn't realize that we weren't going to the very end of the month with "Palace". I have this piece of text from Professor Allen on women in the Middle East and Egypt in particular.


    This issue is fraught with problems. The discussion of women's status/role in Western societies, and especially in France and the US--the two societies in the forefront of "developments" in this area, is already nothing less than lively. When we try to address the situation in other world cultures, the situation becomes considerably mnore complex. The basic question is the extent to which cultural values are transferable, or expressed differently, the extent to which, when we try to look at, say, Egyptian society and women's role in it from OUR perspective, we run the risk of trampling all over a set of cherished cultural norms in our--often entirely well-meaning--attempts to show the ways in which their life is not like (and is therefore worse than ??) that of women in the West.... So there's a problem of "situating" the issues, before we even address some of the basic questions.

    A basic problem is that there is a tendency to mix up what is Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, etc. with what is (regarded as) Islamic. Let's take "Veiling" as an example. It was the custom of upper-class Roman women to wear the veil as a sign of class (other classes were not allowed to do so). Furthermore, the entire process of sequestering women within the home is not "Islamic" in origin; the institution of purdah in India, for example, is virtually identical in its institutions, if not more strict than its Middle Eastern version.

    The question of women's status and rights in Egypt is thus very complicated. Many women students at my university, for example, have now decided to wear headdress (not the face veil, but keeping their hair covered) as a symbol of their own identity as Muslims and as Muslim WOMEN; it has become in one way a kind of feminist gesture! This, by the way, includes some American female converts to Islam. Furthermore, the adaptability of Egyptian culture being so well developed, there has now emerged in Egypt an entire Egyptian women's islamic fashion, involving dresses, headdresses, and "ensembles" of considerable elaboration (and expense).

    The issues that most people like to talk about in this connection are women's rights in marriage (and divorce) and gender roles inside the house (as with Aminah in PALACE WALK, for example). So, here goes....

    In an Islamic marriage the women keeps all her own property, and she is enjoined to manage it herself (or to work with members of her own family--brothers, etc. in doing so). If she is divorced, then her property returns unequivocally to her. On the question of polygamy, it is not generally realized, I believe, that the vast majority of Muslims do not marry a plurality of wives, and for a very simple reason: they can't afford it! The Qur'an lays down extremely strictly rules about fairness in this context, and, in general, it is only the very rich (thus involving certain contemporary Arab countries in particular) who can afford to meet those demands. It also needs to be remembered that Arabia in the times before islam was a society in which not only polygamy but polyandry (plurality of husbands) was the practice. Thus, historians often point out that the Prophet Muhammad's original injunctions about marriage, as laid out in the Qur'an, were a considerable restructuring (and indeed restriction) of previous practice. There's something of an analogy here too between the experience of the very small Muslim community in Arabia in the 7th century and that of the Mormons in this country; polygamy, in a particular historical and social context becomes an effective and rapid way of increasing the size of the community.

    At any rate, in modern times a number of Arab countries have placed civil restrictions on polygamy: they include Egypt (fostered by Jehan Sadat, now widow of the late president), Tunis, Morocco, Jordan, and Lebanon (those are the ones I know about). In Egypt, for example, a man who wishes to marry a second wife has to appear before a judge in court with his first wife; the first wife must agree to the "arrangement." You notice that the above list of countries does NOT include some of the wealthier (and, ironically, much more traditional) societies; and they, of course, are the ones all the movies are made about (e.g. DEATH OF A PRINCESS...).

    I hope it is clear that, even while I am trying to lay out here certain pieces of information that add to our perspective on the question of women's status, I am NOT trying to maintain that "everything in the garden is rosy." Obviously, it is not, but, on the other hand, it is also not such as case of black and white as the more facile Western commentators try to make it out to be....

    So let's finish by talking about the woman in the household. Here I'd like to invoke the idea of public and private space. In the USA, it is the tradition, I believe, that both inside and outside the house both genders may feel perfectly at ease and in place. We could go into the whole issue of women workers in factories during World War II and the "polite request" that they go home again when the men came back, but I think that in more recent decades that has clearly and irrevocably changed!.... However, the point is that this sense of "space entitlement" and appropriateness does NOT operate in the same way in other world cultures (although I'll admit that many of them are in processes of transition, including the Arab world itself). Public space in the Arab world has been, and really still is, man's space. By contrast, the home--that private, intimate, even sacred space (the Arabic word Harem, always mispronounced--it is harEEM in Arabic--links the concept of "women" to the concept of "sanctuary," "protected," and even "revered") is WOMAN's space. This is actually NOT either an Arab thing and it's certainly nothing "Islamic." I might almost say it's "eastern" and it's certainly "Mediterranean" as any of you who have visited either Greece or Italy/Sicily (and especialy their southern parts) will know. In a certain sense the man in the house is almost a kind of visitor or guest; he may be its "master" but he will probably spend as much time outside it as inside it (especially in the evenings). Where this scenario becomes difficult (and often dangerous) is in the context where this notion of "harem"--as something sacred--becomes the yardstick of "family honor and pride". Since time immemorial, the "probity" of one's womenfolk in the Arab world has been the major means by which many societies have measured their own social status. In the poetic tradition of Arabic, the very mention of a beloved's name in a love poem was sufficient for the poet to be denied any further access to the girl; this is the origin of the notion of "courtly love" poetry, certainly in Arabic and perhaps in general (we're talking about the 7th century here). The loss of that "probity" status (when for example a young girl goes beyond the bounds by being seen with a boy [or worse]) is a family tragedy, and the consequences are serious --particularly for the woman/girl involved.

    Thus, while the famous episode in which Aminah leaves the house to go to the mosque reveals a side of her husband that we find outrageous (and so do his children and even his male friends), she has left the family sanctum--even for a religious purpose. The fact t

    September 15, 1998 - 02:22 pm
    OOPS...continuation...I hope. The fact that he is forced by societal pressure to take her back is, of course, a natural consequence of what his decision has done to his own family but also the result of pressures that are brought to bear on him by friends and neighbors alike who realize that not only is his interpretation of traditional codes unnecessarily strict (and, in his case, utterly hypocritical) but also increasingly out of date. For mores are in the process of change--a primary topic of Mahfouz's TRILOGY, and even upholders of traditional morality (and hypocrites) have to deal with that reality.

    Marge Stockton
    September 16, 1998 - 06:16 am
    Some bits from Geraldine Brooks, Nine Parts of Desire:

    Brooks corroborates Prof. Allen's statements on polygamy. It appears to be a fading practice in most places, as Allen says, mostly for economic reasons. Brooks discusses at some length the state of educational opportunities for women in various Muslim countries. The rise of fundamentalism in places that had previously been somewhat liberalized has had a profound effect. "To the gnarled old imam, sending his daughters out of the home -- to walk in the streets, even if veiled, to sit among strangers, even if all girls -- was wicked. His daughters learned what he felt they needed to know, which was to recite the Koran, in the seclusion of the women's quarters of their house....Today in Saudi Arabia, fathers ... can still make such a choice for their daughters. Schooling for girls, although now widespread, has never been compulsory if their fathers disapprove. Many men believe in the saying that educating women is like allowing the nose of the camel into the tent: eventually the beast will edge in and take up all the room inside." (p. 145-146)

    "But while the opening of women's universities widened access to higher learning for women, it also made the educational experience much shallower. Before 1962, many progressive Saudi families had sent their daughters abroad for education. They had returned to the kingdom not only with a degree but with experience of the outside world, whether in the West or in more progressive Arab countries, such as Egypt, Lebanon or Syria, where they'd breathed the air of desegregation and even caught a breath of secular culture. Now a whole generation of Saudi women have completed their education entirely within the country....While thousands of Saudi men benefit from higher education abroad at government expense, women haven't been granted such scholarships since 1980. The government's position is that women's educational opportunities have improved within the kingdom to the point where a woman's needs can all be met within its borders. The definition of educational needs....are 'to bring her up in a sound Islamic way so that she can fulfill her role in life as a successful housewife, ideal wife and good mother, and to prepare her for other activities that suit her nature such as teaching, nursing and medicine.'" (p. 149)

    At the end of her chapter on education, Brooks concludes "Like most Westerners, I always imagined the future as an inevitably brighter place, where a kind of moral geology will have eroded the cruel edges of past and present wrongs. But in Gaza and Saudi Arabia, what I saw gave me a different view. From there, the future is a place that looks darker every day." (p. 166)

    Marge Stockton
    September 16, 1998 - 06:36 am
    I was surprised to find The Ballad of Frankie Silver to not be available in paperback. I only shell out for hardbacks for reference works and the greatest of the great. I'll try the library.

    September 16, 1998 - 06:37 am
    Regarding the subject of divorce. Evidently only the man could divorce, as when Yasin's wife wanted one, her father had to convince his father to get one.

    Yasin's father -- Ahmed? (I have had to return the book to the library as it was overdue) -- did not consider marrying more than once because of what happened to his own father. His father had married many times, mainly to have children though that didn't work because he was almost sterile. But when he died, part of his estate had to go to the remaining wives. And his estate had already been somewhat depleted by divorce settlements with some of the ex-wives.

    The estate, in contrast, of Yasin's mother went to Yasin as her heir rather than to her present husband.

    It is somewhat amusing that Ahmed had divorced his first wife, Yasin's mother, to teach her a lesson about going to visit her father. He intended it to be only temorary, but she refused to come back. Note that he did not try that trick with Amina his second wife; he just sent her out of the home.

    September 16, 1998 - 12:54 pm
    Yes, and...just read parts of the book written in 1994, Sultana's Daughter which addresses female circumcision among the Muslims. I do think that would take a world of explaining, at least to my ears.

    There are a lot of things that are common and accepted in a culture that are wrong and hurtful and harmful, and that's certianly right up there on my list.

    On a brighter note, GUESS WHAT CAME? The article and it's a wow, too, really good about translation, it's a joy to read. I will scan it at Kinko's tomorrow if I can tear myself away from the Clinton $30+ saga and hope to upload it tomorrow night. Our Larry will be in, but after a 10 hour drive am not looking for him to appear.

    We can keep on discussing Palace Walk here as long as we'd like. Ginny

    September 17, 1998 - 11:32 am
    Hi, Just as I am passing through wanted to tell you that I have Professor Allen's final text to us, which is what he characterizes as his most controversial. It deals with Islamic attitudes towards western culture. Will post it when I get back or tomorrow.

    Ginny: Am anxious to read the article you are about to post.

    If there are any really pressing questions that haven't been answered after this final post I would not be surprised if the the Professor was willing to respond. He has been and continues to be an exceptionally cooperative,accessible and informative resource. What a fortunate find this gentleman has been.

    September 17, 1998 - 03:53 pm
    Yes, Helen, this is truly marvelous, and TA Daaaaaaaaaaa!! Trumpets!!

    Here it is!! Yes, I spent this afternoon in Kinko's on a MAC with THE most helpful young man I EVER met, scanning this 31 page document, only to be unable to bring it to YOU, as I can't upload it.

    Never fear, our Larry's almost here and will hopefully be recovered from his 10 and 8 hour driving days soon and will upload it for us.

    Till that time, here is installment #1, I read it all in Kinko's and really enjoyed it. (The mistakes are from the faulty OCR and the original text was very colorful with greens and reds and blues and graphics, but they wouldn't save to my computer: sorry).

    The Impact of the Translated Text:

    The Case of Naj~b Mahfi~z's Novels,

    With Special Emphasis on The Trilogy'

    Roger Allen

    University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia' USA

    "Those familiar with the paradigms of the Latin verb will be aware that translation involves a process of transfer, of "carrying across." The Romance languages prefer the concept of "leading across" (Fr. "traduction," It. "traduzione"). If Robert Thy's well-known work 7he Fight Stages of Translation (1983) describes and quantifies the linear extent of the process, there is also a good deal of linguistic research that investigates the complexity of the translation process at each stage of the transfer, the move from source text, via intertext, to target text. Tn his famous article "The Task of the Translator, " Walter Benjamin suggests that translation is a mode, and that "To comprehend it as a mode one must go back to the original, for that contains the law governing the translation: its translatability. " The role of the translator is "to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work" (1969: 70).

    Benjamin is talking about the decision-making process that the translator embarks on in the course of bringing a translated text to fruition. I would like to explore this notion of "translatability" by examining some translated texts of Nal~ Mahfuz, the ~,gyptian novelist and 1988 Nobel Laureate in Literature. I will investigate the principles that translators have followed, the difficulties that they have faced, and the features of the resulting translations. However, alongside the "transfer" process from source text to target text, I would suggest that the concept of "translatability" must also imply another aspect. The task of the translator, that of producing a version of the original text in the target language, is only one link, alLeit a significant one, in a long chain of decisions and actions. In the context of assessing the impact of translations, a further process of transfer is involved. l'he translated text presented for publication in the target culture is thereafter subject to reception by a reading public. A further series of criteria will come into play as eclitors and publishers decide on their preferred mode of carrying the author's (and translator's) text across a cultural divide and of leading the reader through the process of dealing with what is essentially the ciefamiliarization of the unfamiliar.

    88 Roger Alkn

    To the best of my knowledge, little has been written on the reception of translated texts. Furthermore, it is my impression that works on translation theory have been largely devoted to the study of languages and cultures that tend to share, in varying degrees, aspects of a common heritage with respect to both history and language: French to German, English to French, and so on. It is with these perceptions in mind that I would like to attempt to consider some of the issues involved in both the theoretical and the actual impact of the translated text between two non-contiguous language systems and cultures, those of Arabic and English, by examining not only the translations of some of Mahfuz's novels but also the circumstances in which these works have been presented to a Western reading public. I will preface my analysis of the texts themselves with a brief historical survey of the translation situation at the time that Mahfuz was awarded the Nobel Prize.

    Translation of Mahfuz and the Impact of the Nobel Prize

    The Nobel Committee's published criteria make it very clear that, in endeavoring to keep track of developments in non-Western literatures, they rely entirely on translations into European languages and on advice that is regularly requested from specialists in those literary traditions (see Allen, 1988). In the case of Mahfuz, before 1988 the availability of translated texts presents an interesting picture. Trevor Le Gassick's translation of &qaq al-Midaqq (Midaq Alley) had been published originally in 1966; Philip Stewart's of Awlad ~ratina (Children of Our Quartcr, generally known in English by the title of its translation, Children of Cc~oclawi) had been completed for an Oxford degree in the late 1960s (although not published commercially until 1981); and the short story anthology Cod's World, compiled by Akef Abadir and myself, had appeared in 1973. In 1972 the American University in Cairo Press had obtained rights to the English translation of eight Mahfuz novels, to which others were added at later stages. At some point before the Nobel Award announcement, Mahfuz assigned to that same press world rights to translations of his works into all languages. While a few of his novels were also available in French and German, the representation was considerably less in those languages than in English. What is particularly interesting about this corpus of translated works is that, while the series of novels that Mahfuz wrote in the 1960s was well represented (except for the curious omission of Tharthara Fawq al-N~1 IChattcr on thc Nik, 1966] which remains untranslated as I write and is first on Mahfuz's personal desiderata list), the one major work that was not available in English was Thc 7;ilogy. I ts three volumes had been part of the original 1972 list for which rights had been secured by the American University in Cairo Press, but the first attempts at translation, samples of which I saw in Cairo as early as 1975, were considered so unsatisfactory that they were completely scrapped. The versions that are now

    NajFb Mayaz's Novels 89

    being published were originally the work of Olive and Lorne Kenny and were started at least a decade ago, but even they had not been released by the time of the announcement of the award of the Nobel Prize to Mahfuz.

    The citation of the Nobel Award Committee makes it clear that the Triloey played a large part in their decision, but the version in question was the French translation of the first two of its three volumes prepared by Philippe Vigreux and published in 1985 and 1987. They also made mention of Childrcn of Gchelawi and "the stories of God's World." While Arab critics were able to identify the first English title as a reference to Awl~d H~ratina (1959 in newspaper article form, 1967 in book form), the mention of God's World was seen by many as a reference to the short story collection DunyaAllah (1963), whereas the anthology in English culled from a variety of short story collections was in fact the one intended.

    Since Mahfuz was characterized and praised as an Arab or Egyptian nooclist, it is clear that the selection of translated works cited by the Nobel Committee posed some problems for those who were to present his works to an English-speaking readership. Almost every article and critical review concerned itself predominantly with the "Cairo 7;ilogy," relaying to a curious and expectant audience the comments of specialists to the effect that it was a novel of generations in the great social-realist tradition, depicting life in Cairo in masterful detail. In describing Mahfuz commentators made use of phrases such as "the Dickens of Cairo" or "the Balzac of Cairo," no doubt with the laudable aim of easing that process of cross-cultural transfer, but at the same time confirming the worst suspicions of those Arab-world critics who were already attacking Mahfuz for having sold out, namely that the Nobel Prize was simply a congratulatory pat on the head for trying a bit harder to master a Western literary genre. The only problem with all this was that English readers who kept hearing about this great work had no access to it. But the citation listed another work, Childrcn oJGchelawi. Here, the commentators and interviewers tended to find considerably more fruitful ground, as it soon emerged that the work had been banned in Egypt soon after its initial publication in 1959. But as they and others set themselves to read this latter work (one of those kept in circulation in the pre-Nobel era through the devoted efforts of Donald Herdeck at Three Continents Press), the general reaction, at least if my own experiences are any guide, was one of politely expressed bamement and even disappointment. How could this novel purport to be the work of someone who was claimed to be the Balzac or Dickens of Cairo? To what were all its obscure allusions referring? Perhaps a semester-long course in comparative religion, with a particular focus on Islam and not a few details about the quarter system in Cairo, would help in the reading process. In contrast, I have neither heard nor read any reactions to the recently published first two volumes of Thc Trilogy in English translation that mention any such difficulties in the process of reading their narratives after their transfer to a different cultural context, although there

    90 Roger Allen

    have, of course, been comments on the quality of the translation itself.

    In concluding this brief survey of the practicalities involved in the more public aspect of the reception of Mahfuz's works in the West following the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988, I would like to suggest that, if the process had already been rendered problematic by the scant availability of translated texts, Mahfuz's support of Salman Rushdie's rights as a writer, and the linkage of Childrcn of Gchelawi and its treatment of the issue of religion with the Satanic Verscs controversy was to prove even more deleterious during the course of his " Nobel Years."

    September 17, 1998 - 04:25 pm
    Larry is NOT home, he did that from a motel in Kentucky, the weather is awful and rainy and they're having 8 and 10 hour driving days.

    What a guy! I've posted it in the heading, but Larry wrote again saying to take it out, something about geocities putting ads in their copy now and he's going to have to study it, but enjoy what's been posted here as much as you can, and I'll post more tomorrow, too. It's a big long thing, but interesting all the way thru.


    Roslyn Stempel
    September 18, 1998 - 06:49 am
    Ginny, congratulations, three cheers, and many thanks for bringing us the opening section of what is sure to be an enlightening paper. Those fancy French restaurants call it an amuse-gueule, something that entertains the gullet, or as we would say, tickles the palate - a tantalizing appetizer. That would describe the first installment of Allen's paper, especially with all the little mis-readings and blank spaces where the scanner goofed.

    I assume that the full download will repeat this section for greater clarity. Then we serious seekers for knowledge will have many questions answered - and, alas, probably many more questions will result from our new information. Keep those little grey cells active, friends.


    September 18, 1998 - 07:11 am
    Ros, yes, that adds to the mystery, don't you think? It's really a good article.

    The spelling of Mahfuz with those little lines IS in the original, tho, isn't that interesting? Larry will be back tonight and by tomorrow he may have figured out the curse, I've really enjoyed this excursion into the Academic Journal.


    September 18, 1998 - 08:39 am
    Hi Guys,

    Ginny: Great sleuthing! Looks to be fascinating reading as is the following. While we are waiting for Larry to make his way through the flooded roads I thought I would post this text as promised.

    This may be my final offering, unless there are other things you'd like me to talk/mouth off/ about....! The Islamic attitude to Western culture....

    The first thing to say, of course, is that the very terms we use tend to set up the course of the debate, and in unfavorable terms. In other words, what are "Islamic attitude" (as opposed to "Jewish attitude," "Hindu attitude," or "Christian attitude") and what is "Western culture"? We use such terms, of course (and American Congressmen love telling us about something called "the American people," as though they really know what those people want/think/need/believe, etc.); we think we know what we mean, but....

    This question has a VERY long history. Let's just mention two fun events in European history: the Crusades, a vast historical fiasco, whereby European rulers, instigated by the papacy, sent all their most troublesome relatives on a vast, exploitative, racist jaunt across Europe and the Middle East (inciting pogroms against the Jews on the way)--if you don't believe me, then make sure you all watch the four-part video series (readily available) called the Crusades, a brilliant debunking of this historical debacle hosted by no less than Terry Jones, member of the Monty Python troupe and Cambridge graduate in history--it can be purchased in the States; the second event in this sorry historical procession is the "glorious" reconquista of Spain, whereby that country was recaptured for Christianity from the "Moors" (Muslims/Arabs/Andalusians) whose culture had for seven centuries provided Europe wtih a large percentage of the cultural underpinnings in science, medicine, mathematics, philosophy, music, etc. on which much of our learning relies; the primary consequence of this Reconquista (apart from the expulsion of the Moors and Jews in 1492) was the inquisition, that wonderful exercise in Christian enlightenment....

    This is just some of the historical baggage with which Middle Eastern people, Muslims and Christians, look at what is happening to them today, and in such a context, the advent of the State of Israel in 1948 becomes--for them--just another foreign incursion into Muslim territory. It was Christianity that succeeded in establishing the Muslim, the Turk, the Saracen, the Moor, as the inimical other (and you should try reading some of the "studies" of Muhammad the Prophet written during this period), and in contemporary times one might suggest that Middle Eastern nations are returning the favor. Why are they so antagonistic to us: because we are "the other."

    I think I noted in an earlier "essay" that most of the poorer countries in the Middle East (or elsewhere in the "Third World") find themselves beholden to the "charity" of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, both of which endeavor to dictate internal economic policy as part of the process of loaning money. In countries like Sudan, Somalia, and even Egypt, this has led to some ugly social confrontations, whether in the form of riots or outright wars. For many people in the Arab world, the capitalist system that they see prevalent in the West and especially in the United States is NOT a positive force but rather a means by which alien institutions seem to be making their lives more miserable. As life in these (and many other) countries becomes progressively more unliveable, there is an automatic search for alternatives; not just alternative sources of monetary support, but radical alternatives to the entire organization of society and ethical values. For vast numbers of people in Africa and the Middle East (and, as I noted earlier, in the United States as well) Islam, its values, its culture, and its social organization provides such an alternative, and, as we have recently seen, there is not shortage of monetary support to encourage the development of entirely legitimate religious support systems in a number of countries, as well as entirely illegitimate organizations aimed at subverting what is widely regarded as the source of so much misery, namely Western capitalism and its secular bases. Poverty, desperation, and anger are ready feeding-grounds for such antagonistic sentiments, and, unfortunately, actions...

    Once again, I hope it is understood that I am in no way condoning a good deal of what we have seen (and will probably continue to see) happening. However, it is part of my academic function, at least as I see it, to endeavor to explore and understand the motivations that drive people in a culture other than my own (I am British and Christian [a church organist-choirmaster indeed] and a professor at America's oldest university), if only so that at least some people can try to break down this dreadful "them" and "us" (the notion of "the other") that is at the base of so much MISunderstanding of cultural difference that is surely the essence of the richness of humankind.

    This is surely the most controversial of my pieces to you, but, for that reason, it may also be the most important. So be it.


    September 18, 1998 - 08:59 am
    Well, he's just a gift, isn't he? Helen, please convey my heartfelt thanks to him for this wonderful richness of information! We will have more we'd like to impose on him when we can get his articles up.


    September 20, 1998 - 05:06 pm
    As today is the 20th, we now begin our wrap up of Palace Walk reserving the option to continue to chat about the issues and ask Dr. Allen more questions as we take nominations.

    I've managed, with the strenuous help of Larry, to get the entire article with MUCH OCR problems corrected by Larry, in the heading. Do read it and see what you think? Does it raise any questions?

    Remember back when we read 84, Charing Cross Road, and how much we all enjoyed it, tho it wasn't a recent book? For that matter, neither is Palace Walk . In our attempts to present to the world a SeniorNet Best Loved Books List, I've been amazed at how often the "Lucia" series by EF Benson turns up, and so I'd like to nominate the first of the books, Queen Lucia, by EF Benson.

    There are no end of rave reviews on this book, a delightful look in to the foibles and fancies of a small English town. Almost everyone who reads this series swears by it, it's a delight.

    "Without this reissue, I might have gone to my grave without ever knowing about Lucia or Miss Mapp. It is not a risk anyone wshould take lightly." Auberon Waugh, New York Times .

    "Fresh, fascinating, real and timeless." --Nancy Mitford

    "...a rich reading experience to be savored for many snowy evenings." Pittsburgh Press

    "If you do become a Luciaphil--and of course you will--you'll be in the company of Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, WH Auden, and Cyril Ritchard."---Detroit News

    I nominate Queen Lucia by E.F. Benson as a December gift to those who haven't read it. It is available from our Bookstore:

    Queen Lucia E. F. Benson Retail Price: $10.95 Our Price: $8.76 You Save: $2.19 (20%) In-Stock: Ships 2-3 days Format: Paperback, 1st ed., 176pp.


    Roslyn Stempel
    September 20, 1998 - 06:58 pm
    Ginny, many thanks for making Professor Allen's article available. I saved it to a word processor file and printed it out but I can see that it deserves careful reading before any comments or questions can emerge.

    This book discussion has indeed been worth while and I hope it can continue a few days longer so that we can share reactions to the moving events that end the book.

    I have no objection to Lucia, though unfortunately I gave my 3-books-in-one paperback away years ago to someone who had never heard of it and deserved to be enlightened. I would like to venture another suggestion:

    Carol Shields, Larry's Party, now available in paperback.

    Shields is a Canadian-born author whose The Stone Diaries received considerable attention a few years ago. She has usually had as her theme some investigation of a woman's life and emotions. In this book she applies the same techniques to a man's life. I enjoyed reading it and found myself thinking about the principal character and his story for quite a while after I had finished the book. It was a "read-aloud" on Canadian radio not long ago, but I don't know whether it's been a book club selection here.


    Joan Pearson
    September 22, 1998 - 06:55 am
    I second (fourth) the Benson nomination. The following was part of a long Michael Dirda article in Sunday's Post which I copied to save you the trouble of reading the entire article. I remember noting at the time that I was going to read some of them.

    All six books in E.F. Benson's cycle about Emmeline Lucas and Elizabeth Mapp are quite irresistible, but their humor -- subtle, malicious, ever-fresh -- emphasizes situation as much as language. In each novel (except Miss Mapp) Lucia finds her dictatorship of local society threatened, and she must out-maneuver adversaries on many flanks.

    In Mapp and Lucia Benson brings his two greatest characters into direct conflict. After the death of her husband, Lucia decides to leave the village of Riseholme and move to Tilling, a port city rather like Rye (where Benson lived, eventually becoming mayor). Before long Tilling's resident queen, Elizabeth Mapp, is launching foul plots to prevent the dynamic Lucia from further captivating Major Benjy, the Padre (a clergyman who chatters away in a comic Scots dialect), and Quaint Irene (based on the famous lesbian Radclyffe Hall), among others. Inevitably, dinner parties, art competitions, bridge games and catty conversation drive the novel to its famous climax, in which the two rivals are swept out to sea while clinging to a kitchen table.

    It's hard to quote from Mapp and Lucia, for so much of the book's tone depends on context. But here's Mapp, on her way to purloin the closely guarded recipe for the scrumptuous "Lobster a la Riseholme": She passes some servants on their way to a whist drive and "wished them a Merry Christmas and hoped they would all win. (Little kindly remarks like that always pleased servants, thought Elizabeth; they showed a human sympathy with their pleasures, and cost nothing; so much better than Christmas boxes)."

    But really one needs to read all these novels, masterly send-ups of the syrupy civilities and hypocrisies of daily life. Who can forget Lucia's kitschy Shakespearean garden? Or how she pretends to take a lover so as to seem more attractive to London society? In Miss Mapp the huffing Navy man Captain Puffin suffers a seizure, falls forward into his soup -- and drowns. And here, at the opening of Lucia in London, Benson describes Georgie Pillson -- Lucia's epicene neighbor and ally -- visiting his soul-mate after the death of her wealthy aunt:

    "Georgie held her hand a moment longer than was usual, and gave it a little extra pressure for the conveyance of sympathy. Lucia, to acknowledge that, pressed a little more, and Georgie tightened his grip again to show that he understood, until their respective fingernails grew white with the conveyance and reception of sympathy. It was rather agonizing, because a bit of skin on his little finger had got caught between two of the rings on his third finger, and he was glad when they quite understood each other."

    There are people who reread the Lucia books every year. Wise are they, and very happy.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

    Charlotte J. Snitzer
    September 22, 1998 - 02:21 pm

    I read Larry's Party sometime ago and didn't think it offered much for discussion. Stone Diaries was much better. I guess I don't much like reading about men who are failures even though they make a lot of money building mazes. Didn't much like Willy Loman or Updike's Rabbit either. Although Rabbit Run was better than Rabbit at Rest.


    Charlotte J. Snitzer
    September 22, 1998 - 02:37 pm
    Back to Palace Walk:

    All the citizenry is so involved in the political discussion that even the street car conductor stops the car to join in. Poor Kamal is too young to participate and can only play hookey from school, but Amina finds out and sends him back.

    During the blockade the family begins to look at things with different eyes. Yasin begins his dissatisfaction with his marriage. Does he begin to turn to writing?

    I was amused that he bought matches for the English soldier. His being thanked makes him him believe that the English are made differently from the rest of mankind. However when he returns home and finds Zaynab has left, he feels greatly deprived of his opportunity to blame and punish her for the incident he caused.

    These are very strange people, though I like Kamal who has made friends with the English and seems to be much adored by them.


    September 23, 1998 - 05:18 pm
    Charlotte: my recipe for depression is Rabbit and all his angst. Those are the MOST insidiously depressing books I've ever read, and the miasma continues long after the book is over. No, no Updike.

    What? Only two nominations? Where are all the Elmer fans? I've got both these books so will really enjoy whichever. Judy Laird sent me one which really sounds a winner: The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg...."Luminous, exquisitely written novel: a woman follows the pull of the moon to find her way home...a novel about the journey of one woman and about the issues of the heart that transform the lives of all women."

    Sounds like a winner to me?

    Are we pretty much through with Palace? More when I can get my stupid database of addresses OUT of Excel and INTO Word so I can go ahead and print up the mailings.


    September 23, 1998 - 08:11 pm
    I would like to make a wrap-up commentary, but need a couple more hours added to the day. Good thing I didn't have internet when I was working! Maybe tomorrow...........

    Charlotte J. Snitzer
    September 24, 1998 - 08:48 am

    I guess having been lucky enough to have a husband who was always happy in his own job, made me have little patience for men who couldn't seem to make it.

    I had my own problems of being a '50's mom and wanting something for myself.


    September 25, 1998 - 01:16 pm
    Last Day to Nominate!~! Where is everybody?

    Am reading the Translation papers while sitting waiting for grape customers to come down. The weather is beautiful, the grapes gorgeous and ripe, hope Georges the Hurricane stays a long way away.

    Back later,


    September 25, 1998 - 02:08 pm
    Ginny: I am finally here. Hope you post some of your gleaning from the journal article. What about you too Ros, should be right up your alley. A really scholarly piece. Give us the shorter, English version!

    Hey Guys,

    I find myself somewhat loath to leave behind the reading and the discussion of "Palace Walk". I have been leafing through the closing pages re-reading the final meeting between Fahmy and his father, thinking about the internal and external dialogues engaged in between the two men … unknowingly the last they would ever have the chance to share.

    How terribly sad, yes if we were looking for Ahmad to be punished for his tyrannical behavior towards his family, he certainly has been in one of the worst ways imaginable. Not having read the next book in the series yet, I can only wonder whether he will indeed grieve and perhaps change or more than likely whether he will make this martyred son into something about him and continue with his own self- absorption and sense of grandiosity.

    Yet when we read much of his internal dialogue, we hear how he has very strong, protective and loving feelings towards his family and each of it's members. He is unable to give up the power or control enough to show them to them. I believe this has more to do with Ahmad's character/personality than with culture.

    I want to thank all of you who participated in making this ( for me)one of the most memorable book discussions we have had to date. Professor Allen's input really put a heap of frosting on the cake. As I have said before, this book has long been on my shelf just begging to be read. It has been a most fascinating journey, taking me far beyond where I expected to go and leaving me with a heap of new knowledge and a desire to keep on reading about the culture and religion of Islam.

    September 25, 1998 - 02:11 pm

    How long do we have for nominations? I have a couple of titles I know nothing about but will try to get to B&N over the week-end. At least one of them was very highly recommended.


    Okay, your right I don't pay attentiion. Just went up to the calendar and see that today's the day. Will go into the cyberspace bookstores and see what I can find out about the folowing two books. Does anyone else know of them. The first one was especially recommended

    1- In The Lake Of The Woods Tim O'Brian

    2- Asylum

    Going browsing...will try to report back before deadline reached.

    September 25, 1998 - 02:16 pm
    Helen, well, we had until today, and then I see we have 4 more days to discuss the titles nominated, so I'd guess thru the 28th. That's a pretty good time, I think.


    September 26, 1998 - 05:48 pm
    Helen, we were posting together. Take your time, we've got until the 28th to chat and we can nominate too. I need some more details on those books? Authors?

    Are any of you at all interested in reading Brideshead Revisited? I sure could get into that one.

    I did finish the article by Dr. Allen, today sitting down at the grape stand waiting for the happy customers who were picking grapes. What a gorgeous if somewhat hot fall day here, cool under the trees, how nice to actually have to stretch your mind a bit.

    Unfortunately I left the text in my golf cart, but will try to get in here tomorrow. He seemed to be making several different points, to me, started out very meticulously with small types of translation examples, progressed to larger issues, thought it was very well written, tho a lot seemed to depend on the relative stage of development that Mahfouz was in at the time of the novel. I guess that IS an important point, as I believe our own Ros has pointed out.

    I was very surprised at the difference in the French version of the opening lines, thought the French very superior to the English and totally understand his questions about the verb placement in the sentences. In essence, he feels the French translation is superior, and that Mahfouz himself is not that hard to translate, except maybe in the parts where the character is having introspection and then dialogue.

    I still don't know whether the "shouting" of all the characters is normal or not, don't know about "the woman" instances, and am sort of irritated at not having even a MORE specific paper to read, but I see he has written some very specific books, and, after all, 31 pages is quite an article.

    The Arabic which he printed was quite interesting looking, I thought. Imgaine being able to translate that! Like hieroglyphics.


    Roslyn Stempel
    September 27, 1998 - 08:21 am
    The pace of the last section picks up amazingly and we are whirled onward toward a heart-pounding conclusion as the family story and the political story come together. I felt that I had been led gently along a path that seemed predictable, in the direction of a happy ending -- but all happiness vanishes in a series of personal tragedies so shocking that I had to go back and read the last part again to be sure I hadn't misunderstood.

    I wonder if a native reader would have picked up earlier clues to the tragic climax that any one of us might have missed.

    Ginny's point about translations in various languages is interesting. We're thinking about how an expert, or even an amateur, might judge whether one language is better adapted than another to the nuances of Arabic. We've seen similar analyses of different translations into English - Dante, for example, Homer, Flaubert, the Russians. There's obviously truth in that old catch phrase about a joke or a story "losing something in the translation."


    September 27, 1998 - 10:31 am
    It did not seem to me that there was going to be a happy ending. The riots and rebellion were out of Ahmed's control, but otherwise he intended to continue to strictly control his family even after they were mature, by his deeds and his words.

    It was ironic how he told Khadiji at her marriage to "imitate your mother in every respect," at which surprised Khadiji because all her life she had had no inclination that her father thought a lot of her mother. And at the end when Fahmey was killed, his thought was "what am I going to tell his mother?"

    Each person in this story had an unusually strong definite characterization. I liked Amina - she chose to love him; to have a full life in the house - baking, careful cleaning, liking the view down the one street, etc; to learn - having her son repeat what he had learned in school; to create a comfortable stimulating family time in the evening with her children; to create a haven on the roof of vines and flowers along with the doves and chickens .... Yet you do not feel that close to her in the last part of the book.

    Am looking forward to The Ballad of Frankie Silver.

    September 28, 1998 - 04:27 am
    Loma: No, you don't feel close to her at the end, and I wonder why. Like Ros, I had to reread the end twice to assure myself of what was going on.

    I thought throughout the book that Mahfouz did a wonderful job with the crowd scenes, and the two chapters at the end were particularly effective, I thought. The part about a man becoming somebody else when he's in a crowd and the workings of Fahmy's mind at the time of his crisis were marvelous, I thought. Also Ahmad's thinking in time of crisis was really well done.

    The surprise ending, at least it was for me, makes me wonder what, just for my own information, the book was ABOUT. We all know it's a trilogy, so I guess you really can't take it alone, but I've read it alone. In looking at the elements above which we've discussed, it seems that Mahfouz is saying to me at least, that it's one family against the background of the momentous events in Egyptian history, and how their history affects and changes this one family. So the real plot, in my opinion, which is admittedly rushed, is how the events themselves move and change each family member....there's no one protagonist, and we can see that clearly in our disaffection with Amina and her relative weakness at the last.

    Was very surprised to see Mrs. Kennedy Onassis's name at the end as Editor?

    Dr. Allen, in his Translation text, refers to the "Cairo Trilogy." He states that "Almost every article and critical review concerned itself predominatntly with the 'Cairo Trilogy,' relaying to a curious and expectant audience the comments of specialists to the effect that it was a novel of generations in the great social-realist tradition...the general reaction, at least if my own experiences are any guide, was one of politely expressed bafflement and even disappointment....To what were all its obscure allusions referring? Perhaps a semester-long course in comparative religion, with a particular focus on Islam and not a few details about the quarter system in Cairo, would help in the readlng process..." He further remarks that no such problem seems to exist for English readers of the English text except with comment on the "quality of the translation itself."

    It's the same old story, the more you know, I guess, the more you get out of it. I don't know much about Islam except from what I've gathered here as we in the Books have read several different texts, and what I've gathered is very inimical to women and not likely to produce another convert in me. I'm sure that somebody well versed in Egyptology and Islam would thrill to the various nuances, but I enjoyed the book for the story it told and for the albeit brief glimpse we got into another culture and set of lives.

    The Ballad of Frankie Silver is another thing entirely. Sweeps you right up immediately. I put it down at page 5 and said, O let the book continue as marvelously as it has begun. Will be looking forward to what YOU thought: did it?


    Roslyn Stempel
    September 28, 1998 - 05:53 am
    Both the preceding messages - from Loma and Ginny - are very much to the point that I wanted to expand on. I think I've fixed on the "turning point" for me at the beginning of Chapter 52 when Fahmy's character moves, so to speak, to center stage and the civil unrest becomes more prominent in the story.

    An instructor in a freshman literary survey always charged us with finding the place in every book where, he claimed, the author always states the theme. In Palace Walk I'm wondering if it's on 359-360 in Fahmy's interior monologue:

    His mother...would continue to knead the dough morning after morning. God forbid that anything should distract her....Great activities would not interfere with minor ones. Society would always be flexible enough to embrace exalted and trivial matters and to welcome both equally ....Was a mother not a part of life? She had given birth to him, and sons fueled the revolution....In fact, nothing about life was trivial. But would not some day come when a great event would rock all the Egyptians, leaving none of the differences of opinion that had been present at the coffee hour five days ago?....Welcome to this new morning of freedom. May God carry out whatever He has decreed.

    Here we might say that Mahfouz is stating his theme: He has produced a realistic, matter-of-fact, and detailed picture of family life and the culture of a particular class, and is also describing the dawning of enormous changes. He encompasses the social, political, and religious aspects of that period: Some things never change, but other things are going to change us beyond recognition, and may Allah's decrees be fulfilled.


    Marge Stockton
    September 28, 1998 - 06:28 am
    About the December selection: Ginny keeps throwing out Brideshead Revisited in various posts. That appeals to me. I won't actually nominate it because my reading time is so limited I may not be able to keep up. But if that should be the agreed upon selection, I would certainly give it a try. I've never read Waugh. Saw (and loved) the PBS version of Brideshead so many years ago I don't think it would affect my appreciation of the book at this time.

    September 28, 1998 - 07:07 am
    Good Morning All,

    Thanks for the posts on the wrap up,I Keep learning from you guys all the time.

    I'm on the run but wondered if you had given thought to what the month of December is like. We've got all kinds of holidays, plus the Book Club trip to New York. I realized this as I was looking at Wally Lambs new book which some friends of mine are reading for their couples book club and recommmend it highly. However it is 900 pages.

    I also picked up a paperback called, "The God Of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy which won the Booker Prize( The setting is India) and it received a nice review in the N.Y.Times as did Lamb's book.

    What think you all?

    September 28, 1998 - 07:22 am
    Helen, yes, December is a crusher, that's why I originally recommended the Lucia, a light, humorous, delightful pastishe you can read and enjoy and be glad you did. If anyone reading this has NOT read the Lucia books, this is a book you don't want to have missed. Really.

    I'll put up Brideshead, and will put up the God of Small things, as I'd like to read both. It will give us a good slate, anyway, but we DO need to remember December's schedule and keep the nominations in mind for later months.

    Strange there are no nominations for Elmer this time? I personally cannot read a 900 page book between Thanksgiving and December, but the long months of Winter might make it very appealing? You didn't give a title there, so I won't put it up right now.

    Still taking nominations thru today.


    Roslyn Stempel
    September 28, 1998 - 09:05 am
    I own a copy of The God of Small Things, bought after hearing an enchanting interview with the author, and didn't like it one bit. I found it nearly impossible to read and actually stomach-turning in spots (and for me that's unusual)... not because of the detailed sexual-abuse passages but because of some other parts. I haven't spoken to one single person who liked it. Still, it does present a different look at a different culture and its internal conflicts, and since I already have the book, I'm prepared to give it another try if it's selected.

    Although my own calendar is pretty much the same month after month I agree that a shorter and lighter book would be suitable for December since regular participation becomes more difficult for many readers. Maybe if folks are willing to do one section of the Lucia whopper that would carry us through the month?


    September 28, 1998 - 09:06 am
    The Palace Walk may be more timely than we realize. For instance, here is an article in Sunday's Washington Post. It is about Afghanistan and the ruling Taliban "a puritanical Islamic militia." Note how the women are restricted, and how they are trying to avoid the "foreign influence". This link probably may last only a several days; I don't know how long.

    Afghan Islam

    Eddie Elliott
    September 28, 1998 - 10:21 am
    Ginny, the reason there are no nominations for "Elmer" now is because it was decided on for our December book, when we voted earlier. Then I believe you as well as others (can't find the posts) did not want to do "Elmer" during Christmas...didn't feel it appropriate. So...why nominate it again? It has already won and been done away with.


    September 28, 1998 - 01:25 pm
    Eddie is right. We did revote on Elmer and we did decide, by a margin of 9- a few, to go ahead and do it, so we're actually thinking of January.

    Besides, it might be good to read Elmer to give us all some idea what the proper sentiments ought to BE during the holidays after all~and I've always wanted to read it.

    Good for you, Eddie Marie, I had totally forgotten that, so we're now deciding on the January Book! Thanks, and I'll enjoy my favorite author, Sinclair Lewis, with a book I never got around to reading. I KNOW it's good, nothing he wrote is NOT.


    September 29, 1998 - 03:31 am
    Well, as this is our day to vote, I'm very pleased to see a small but quality slate up there. I believe, tho I have the Larry's Party and do want to read it.........I think I'll vote for Queen Lucia, just because I hope to bring it to the attention of some of our members who may not have heard of it.


    September 29, 1998 - 03:35 am
    AND as far as my rating of Palace Walk goes, I'm going to have to give that one an 8.5. It's a great book, you have the feeling of greatness when you read it and of being a part of something you didn't know much about.

    I enjoyed getting the "inside" view of Egyptian thought and culture, am very grateful to Helen for nominating it. Found myself infuriated with al-Sayyid, tho I'm glad I got to see his side, and I do feel that I learned a lot and can apply it to my own life (the Eddie Marie principle).

    Thus, tho the translation drove me mad and I never really felt close to any of the characters except Amina (and not her at the end) I think it's a good book and I'm glad I read it.


    Marge Stockton
    September 29, 1998 - 05:36 am
    I'll go with Lucia.</>

    Larry Hanna
    September 29, 1998 - 06:32 am
    Ginny, I will also vote for the "Queen Lucia" going on your recommendation.


    Eddie Elliott
    September 29, 1998 - 09:20 am
    I vote for Queen Lucia by E.F. Benson. Have heard so much about it from Ginny and others. Looking forward to it.


    Roslyn Stempel
    September 29, 1998 - 02:49 pm
    I'll certainly support Lucia for whatever month is being considered. Though I nominated Larry's Party I'm not, as they used to say, invested in it, and it might not be a satisfying encounter for readers who have not read anything else by Shields.

    As for Palace Walk, judged for itself and its genre and not in comparison with the entire world of books, I would give it a 9.5. I stretched it from a 9 to make allowance for the difficulties of fully appreciating a seminal work in translation. The same problem would apply, for example, to Zola, Undset, Balzac, etc.


    September 29, 1998 - 04:06 pm
    Hi All,

    Ginny I would like to read the "Lucia" book you and Ros seem to like so much. It is new to me. I am not happy with the news that Ros hated the book I just bought. It looked like such a good one...oh well! It will sit on my shelf until I get to it.

    As for "Palace" I give it 9+++ on the basis of the story, delving into the culture, the additonal source material that so enriched it for me. I learned from each of you from your input. It was one of the discussions I will remember with particular affection. I am especially grateful to Professor Allen. I sent him a thank you note and the thanks of us all to go along with it. I did not want to impose on his good nature until we became a burden.

    Just got my copy of Frankie Silver...I hope you take it in small gulps!

    September 30, 1998 - 02:23 am
    Helen, I, too, am wishing to gulp slowly on the Frankie Silver and want to take it slowly, even tho I did hear that it's easily read in a weekend. I guess that would be a weekend in front of the fire in a snowstorm with nobody but the dog around.

    Our rating, of Palace Walk at the present stands at 9.0 even, and our January choice is Queen Lucia by E.F. Benson.

    I sure do hope everyone likes it, it's a period piece, and there's a video we can mail each other, too, of the series which originally appeared in Britain and later here on PBS.

    Benson was the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and lived the life he portrays in his books. He had a wicked eye for the foibles of the small town he lived in, Rye, England, and the insular society of the English village. The setting of Rye actually doesn't appear until the third book in the series. It's a light, fluffy piece which I hope you will be glad, just like the 84, Charing Cross Road that you read. It makes a wonderful bedtime read.

    Frankie Silver tomorrow, just jump in with comments as you will.