When we were in Egypt, Miss Sarah grabbed a book series from a great little book shop in Luxor. Here is her review.
Palace of Desire
Naguib Mahfouz’s second book of his Cairo trilogy, Palace of Desire, continues the story of the fractious Al-Sayyid family. It is now about five years after the death of the most promising son Fahmy, and in that time both daughters, Aisha and Khadija, have had children, older son Yasin has divorced his wife, and younger son Kamal has been accepted into Teachers College, over the objections of his father who would have preferred he attend law school.Each of Ahmad Abd Al-Jawad’s children disappoints him in some way. Khadija is so quarrelsome with her mother-in-law that she appeals to him to step in and discipline his daughter. Aisha is also the target of Khadija’s wrath for not supporting her against her mother-in-law and after losing her family to typhoid, moves in with her parents. Yasin stoops so low as to disgrace his family by taking up with an unsuitable woman and marrying her. Kamal attends Teachers College and after an unrequited love attraction, his disappointment and disillusionment drive him to become an atheist. Both sons come to know of their father’s secret double life and seem doomed to emulate it. The story in this second book ends with Ahmad Abd Al-Jawad realizing that owing to his life long habit of wine, women, and song, he must guard his health in whatever time he has left. Each character has his or her own personal drama and is challenged as to how to manage it against a backdrop of temptations and politics. Only his devout wife Amina, although also aging and still grieving for her son, seems to be stalwart amidst the tumult in the country and disappointment in her family.This was a sad book actually, but an interesting insight as to how Muslim men of this era reacted to the politics of the time, managed their families, rationalized their behavior, and reconciled it with their religion.To learn more about Sarah’s 12 Days in Egypt click here : Sarah’s 12 Days In Egypt.
Sugar Street is the third and final book of Naguib Mahfouz’s masterpiece trilogy and begins in the year 1935 and spans a period of ten years. It will come as no surprise that by the end of this book al-Sayyid Ahmad will meet his end in a slow decline, having suffered from the effects of his wayward, secret life throughout this last book. The family is at a loss for a time as though time should stop when this larger than life man passes and with his death, an era indeed ends. His wife Amina also passes a year after he dies but her death is sudden, and the family does not seem as stricken by her death as it was with al-Sayyid Ahmad’s. Yasin’s third marriage seems to have taken and his wife, initially deemed unsuitable in the last book, has become respectable and even highly regarded by most members of the family. Their daughter grows up to be a beauty and marries young. Aisha who lost her husband and sons to typhoid continues to live in her parents’ house and to mourn her loss every day. She ages prematurely and at 34 is slowly killing herself with coffee and cigarettes. Kamal never marries and follows his vocation as the school teacher he always wanted to be and writes philosophical and political essays on the side. His life as the youngest of al-Sayyis Ahmad’s children is intertwined with his nephews’, the sons of Khadija, Abd a’-Muni’m and Ahmad, who turn into revolutionaries; one a communist activist, and the other a Muslim fundamentalist. Although Kamal is a member of the Wafdist Party, he is not the reactionary that his nephews are. It’s an interesting political time in Egyptian history and we get a peek into the budding Muslim Brotherhood. The third generation of al-Sayyid Ahmad’s family is quite different and reflects the political struggles of Egypt as it tries to evolve into a nation of freedom.
Mahfouz’s trilogy was serialized for Arab television and was popular not only for its story line but as a valuable historical document. I found all three books engaging and interesting.