Naguib Mahfouz

Born in 1911, Mahfouz is the grand old man of Arabic fiction, enjoying the affection and reverence of both critics and a vast readership.
His first novel was published in 1939 and since that date he has written thirty-two novels and thirteen collections of short stories. In his old age, he has maintained his prolific output, producing a novel every year.
The novel genre, which can be traced back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe, has no prototypes in classical Arabic literature. Although this abounded in all kinds of narrative, none of them could be described as we understand the term "novel" today. Arab scholars usually attribute the first serious attempt of writing a novel in Arabic to the Egyptian author Muhammad Hussein Haykal. The novel, called "Zaynab" after the name of its heroine, and published in 1913, told in highly romanticized terms the story of a peasant girl, victim of social conventions. Soon after, writers like Taha Hussein, Abbas Al-Aqqad, Ibrahim Al-Mazini and Tawfiq Al-Hakim were to venture into the unknown realm of fiction.
The Arabic novel, however, was to wait for another generation for the advent of the man who was to make it his sole mission. Mahfouz, who was born to a middle-class family in one of the oldest quarters in Cairo, was to give expression in powerful metaphors, over a period of half a century, to the hopes and frustrations of his nation. Readers have so often identified themselves with his work, a great deal of which has been adapted for the cinema, theater and television, that many of his characters become household names in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world. On the other hand, his work, though deeply steeped in local reality, appeals to universal and permanent part in human nature. In English and other languages, since the appearance in 1966 of his first translated novel Midag Alley, he has been widely read.
That Mahfouz has always been a socially committed writer with a deep concern for the problem of social injustice is an incontestable fact. To him, individual morality is inseparable from social morality. In other words, according to Mahfouz's moral code, those who only seek their own individual salvation are damned; to him nirvana is, as it were, a distinctly collective state. On the other hand, characters who are saved in Mahfouz's work are only those with altruistic motives, those who show concern for others and demonstrate a kind of awareness of their particular predicament being part of a more general one.
How he pictures the world
The picture of the world as it emerges from the bulk of Mahfouz's work is very gloomy indeed, though not completely despondent. It shows that the author's social utopia is far from being realized. Mahfouz seems to conceive time as a metaphysical force of oppression. His novels have consistently shown time as the bringer of change, and change as a very painful process, and very often time is not content until it has dealt his heroes the final blow of death. To sum up, in Mahfouz's dark tapestry of the world there are only two bright spots, man's continuing struggle for equality on one hand, and the promise of scientific progress on the other.
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