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Naguib Mahfouz

Mahfouz, Naguib (nəgēbˈ mäkhfōsˈ) [key], 1911–2006, Egyptian novelist and short-story writer, b. Cairo. After his graduation (1934) from Cairo Univ., he worked in various government ministries until his retirement in 1971. Mahfouz was the best-known and most widely respected 20th-century writer in Egypt and probably in the whole Arab world, where many of his works were adapted for film and television. His novels are characterized by realistic depictions of Egyptian social, political, and religious life in the troubled 20th cent. His fiction features a wide variety of ordinary citizens, usually inhabitants of Cairo, and includes explorations of such issues as the position of women and the treatment of political prisoners. Stylistically, his works rejuvenated literary Arabic, and in 1988 he became the first Arabic writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

In all, Mahfouz wrote 33 novels, 16 short story collections, several plays, 30 screenplays, and a variety of other works. However, much of his reputation is based on his 1956–57 "Cairo Trilogy"— Bayn al-Qasrayn, Qasr ash-Shawq, and As-Sukkariyya (tr. as Palace Walk, 1989, Palace of Desire, 1991, and Sugar Street, 1992)—a sweeping series of novels that traces the history of a middle-class Cairo Muslim family through three generations, from 1917 to 1952. Another well-known novel, Awlad Haratina (1959; tr. Children of Gebelawi, 1981, Children of the Alley, 1995), a semibiblical allegory, includes characters identified with Muhammad, Jesus, Adam and Eve, and Moses. Considered blasphemous by some, it remains controversial in the Arabic-speaking world and was banned in Egypt.

In the 1960s Mahfouz abandoned some of his realistic techniques and began to write shorter, faster-paced novels with stream of consciousness narratives and scriptlike dialogue, e.g., The Search (1964, tr. 1991). His other novels include Midaq Alley (1947, tr. 1975) and Miramar (1967, tr. 1978). Among his short stories are those in God's World (tr. 1973).

Mahfouz was an outspoken advocate of peace between Egypt and Israel, a position that made him a controversial figure in his homeland. In 1994 he was stabbed in an assassination attempt, apparently by an Islamic fundamentalist. Weakened by age, further debilitated by the attack, and unable to write longer pieces, during his late 80s he began to compose extremely brief dream-based vignettes; a number of them were serialized in Egypt and later collected in The Dreams (2005).

See his Echoes of an Autobiography (1997) and Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureate 1994–2001 (2001); studies by S. Somekh (1973), M. Peled (1983), H. Gordon (1990), T. Le Gassick, ed. (1991), M. Beard and A. Haydar, ed. (1993), R. El-Enany (1993), M. Moosa (1994), and M. Milson (1998), R. A. M. Mneimneh, ed. (2004); bibliography by the Bibliographic and Computer Center, Cairo (2003).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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