While to the best of my knowledge, Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz’s 1946 novel, Cairo Modern, has never been out of print, this week Anchor Books publishes a beautiful new paperback translation (by William M. Hutchins) of the late Cairo-born author’s work.
As astonishing as it may seem, Mahfouz, who died in 2006, remains the only Nobel Prize winner in literature from the Arab world. Though he wrote over 40 novel-length works throughout his career, Cairo Modern remains one of the most accessible, an engaging story of love and loss in 1930s Cairo, a time when European ideas and morals were beginning to infiltrate Cairo society.
A young university graduate marries a politician’s mistress in a move that is meant to save fortunes and names but — somewhat predictably — creates more problems than it solves. What is not predictable is Mahfouz’s handling of his story, the deep humanity he bestows on his creations and the fine detail that burns the whole into memory.
This is an important and lasting work. “Mahfouz was Egypt’s Balzac,” The New York Times said. An interesting — and telling — comment. You may never see Egypt in quite the same way.