MAHFOUZ, the Nobel lauriate
Egypt, Essay, 8/9/1997
Why did he tell stories? Naguib Mahfouz Abd El-Aziz Ibrahim Ahmed El-Basha. His father, Abd El-Aziz El-Basha, a minor civil servant who later became a copper dealer, had died at the age of 65 in 1937, three years after Mahfouz graduated with a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Fouand (later Cairo) University. His Mother, Fatimah Mustafa Kashisha, the daughter of a sheikh from Al Azhar, instilled in the young Mahfouz a love of Egyptian history by taking him to monuments and museums as a boy, and his love of storytelling by reciting endless tall tales before he went to sleep each night.
Mahafouz first worked in the university administration, then in 1939 as a parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Religious Endowments under the Muslim reform figure Sheikh Mustafa.
Abd El-Razik, his other great mentor, was a socialist protegee of George Bernard Shaw, the modernist Coptic editor Salama Mousa, who in 1939 published his premiere novel, "The Mockery of the Fatter," the first of three set in pharaonic Egypt. Mahfouz won little critical notice until Sayid Qutb praised his third historical novel, "The Struggle for the Ber"9an allegory of resistance the British set in ancient Egypt under alien Hykses in 19449by saying it belonged in the home of every patriotic citizen.
Acclaim mounted in 1947 with appearance of "Midaq Alley," a novel about life in a tiny Cul-de-sac in Khan El-Khalili that took on the size of an entire social universe. His masterwork, however, was yet to came. The massive trilogy (Palace walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street), finished in 1952, earned him the state prize for literature in 1957. But by then he had long since stopped producing serious fiction. A psychological crisis, and the sudden loss of the old monarchical society, whose foibles were the very stuff of his fiction, in 1952, turned Mahfouz from novels to screenplays as a way to augment his civil servant income. In the early 1950s he had moved to the film censorship department in what would became the Ministry of Culture. He would continue to work in different positions for the ministry until his government retirement in 1971 at the age of 60. His literary career seemed to have ended just at its peak.
At this dangerous juncture, Heikal successfully wooed Mahfouz out of this malaise to publish his first new novel in seven years, only put them both into a type of peril that neither author or the editor had encountered before. Begun in 1957, Children of the Alley was an allegorical depiction of the story of mankind, from its origins until the age of science. It was serialized by Heikal in Al Ahram paper starting on September 21, 1959. A group of Sheikhs at Al Azhar led by El Ghazali complained to Abd El-Nasser that the storyıs depictions of God and his prophets in profane human forms amounted to blasphemy and that serialization should be stopped. According to some witnesses, Abd El -Nasser permitted serialization of the novel, to stop the demonstrations.
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