The Non-fiction Writing of Mahfouz 1930–1994
translated by R. Neil Hewison, Russell Harris, and Aran Byrne
introductions in each volume by Rasheed El-Enany
Format: Hbk, Royal
Published: November 2020
Naguib Mahfouz was one of the most prolific Egyptian writers and political thinkers of the twentieth century and the first Arab author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1988). Mahfouz composed over thirty novels – including a number of masterpieces, such as The Cairo Trilogy and Children of the Alley – and regularly penned articles for his column in the Al-Ahram newspaper. This boxset consists of a collection of newspaper articles and earlier essays, presented in four volumes. Each volume is introduced by Professor Rasheed El-Enany, an expert scholar in Mahfouz studies and a Professor Emeritus of Modern Arabic Literature at the University of Exeter.
Volume I compiles Mahfouz’s early non-fiction writings mostly authored during the 1930s, offering a rare glimpse into the early development of the renowned author. Mahfouz discusses the origins of philosophy and its contributions to the history of thought. He also presents a series of essays on literature, discussing European writers as well as some of his own Arab contemporaries. Beyond this he explores some contemporary issues of the day, among them the growing movement for women’s rights in the Arab world and emerging ideologies such as socialism. In this volume, all the nuances of Mahfouz’ thoughts concerning Islam, tradition and faith are outlined as he engages with modernity and the secular influences of the West.
Volume II is a collection of essays Mahfouz published from 1971 to 1981 in the Al-Ahram newspaper where he had taken up an appointment as a member of the editorial staff after retiring from his job as a civil servant. These essays were written during the era of Anwar Sadat, whose presidency comprised some of the most dramatic events in Egyptian history: from his ‘Corrective Revolution’ to the Yom Kippur War with Israel and the eventual peace accord between the two countries, as well as his eventual assassination by Islamic extremists in 1981. In this collection Mahfouz deals with diverse political topics, and while his opinions are often considered to be obscured in his fiction writing, an extraordinarily clear insight flows through his personal views.
Volume III consists of newspaper articles published between 1982 and 1988, coinciding with the early years of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency, described by Mahfouz as an ‘unhurried democracy’. Mahfouz’s exceptional humanity is most prominent in the careful attention he pays to the daily challenges faced by Egyptians. The writings presented here reveal his remarkable insight into the country’s political and social issues, as well as pragmatic capacity to see the bigger picture, particularly when it comes to the role of Egypt in the Arab world. A recurring theme in the majority of the essays is Mahfouz’s perseverance in insisting, despite hardships, on tolerance and justice, the importance of cultural education, and the merits of democracy.
Volume IV brings together Mahfouz’s articles written from 1989 and the knife attack in October 1994 that almost ended his life. In carefully crafted short texts his social conscience is revealed as he highlights political shortcomings, economic injustice, and corruption in Egypt and the wider Arab world. His philosophical sensitivity comes to the fore as he contemplates the meaning of a historic event, the contribution of an influential person, or what is required to lead a good life. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the New World Order, the Oslo Peace Accords, the spread of terrorism, the Cairo earthquake and even climate change – these and more come under Naguib Mahfouz’s fine scrutiny.