|Palace Walk||by Naguib Mahfouz|
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.
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
As a student at U of IL, my sorority house was next to International House.. We became quite well acquainted with the boys...men... 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...in 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.
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.
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."
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
> 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.
"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.
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!
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.
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?
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."
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.)
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!!!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
The Case of Naj~b Mahfi~z's Novels,
With Special Emphasis on The Trilogy'
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.
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.
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.
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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."
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.
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.
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?
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.