Book Reviews for Egypt

So…I’ve been finished with both books for awhile. I’ve been unsure how to review one of the two books, or maybe I’ve hit some sort of writer’s block (can that happen with a blog?). Instead of continuing to agonize, I’m just going to ramble on and see if anything comes of it…

Since I’m incapable of finesse right now, I’ll be blunt: Children of the Alley is one of the most challenging books I’ve ever read and it has left me in awe of Naguib Mahfouz – he swung for the fences with this novel.

Cribbing a little from Wikipedia:

“It was originally published in Arabic in 1959, in serialised form, in the Cairo daily Al-Ahram. It was met with severe opposition from religious authorities, and publication in the form of a book was banned in Egypt.

It was this book that earned Naguib Mahfouz condemnation from Omar Abdul-Rahman in 1989, after the Nobel Prize had revived interest in it. As a result, in 1994 – a day after the anniversary of the prize – Mahfouz was attacked and stabbed in the neck by two extremists outside his Cairo home. Fortunately, Mahfouz survived the accident, yet he suffered from its consequences till his last day.”

Statue of Naguib Mahfouz, in Cairo
(image by By Bertramz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)
I had the opposite reaction than Mr. Mahfouz’s critics, but there is no doubt that this is a book meant to engender passionate emotions. You don’t write a novel that takes on Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and human nature in general – in hopes of meeting your readers on neutral ground. Mahfouz was obviously a brilliant man – I have never finished a book knowing that the author is so far ahead of me that it will take six months of thinking it all over just to catch up.

And I’m leaving it at that. I could write a dissertation about this book, but that wouldn’t make anyone happy. Just know that you should read it. We can get together for cocktails afterward and discuss…

And now for something completely different. The second book I chose, Write Your Own Egyptian Hieroglyphs, was a great find. Written by Angela McDonald, who lectures in Egyptology at Glasgow University, it is a lively and very informative introduction to ancient Egyptian history. McDonald reads as if she must be a very good teacher; if you are anywhere near Glasgow, keep an eye out for public lectures!

Going in two directions at once

Researching this first book was a pleasure – a country like Egypt is fertile literary ground. As I mentioned before, the problem lies not in a lack of options, but in which direction to go.

But why limit myself? I’m going to read two books! It’s not impressive as it sounds – there will be one “main” text, and then more of a crafty project book in the background…

The featured “serious” book is Children of the Alley by Naguib Mahfouz. About a minute into my research it became clear that Mr. Mahfouz is a creative force that that cannot be ignored. A winner of The Nobel Prize in Literature, he is an absolute heavyweight of a writer, and I’m a little embarrassed to never have read any of his work. An oversight that is going to be quickly remedied, indeed.

The secondary book is Write Your Own Egyptian Hieroglyphs by Angela McDonald.        Just because it seems like fun.