I am currently reading the first book from The Cairo Trilogy, Palace Walk, by Naguib Mahfouz. He is famous as Egypt's greatest writer, and I had been putting the book off as it looked a bit big and daunting.... but its wonderful- loving it!!! Unputdownable (well- until you need to rest your wrists from holding such a heavy book!)
Although the English translation is naming it Palace walk a direct translation from the arabic would be 'Between 2 palaces' . I have been told by a few people who have read his books in english and in arabic that lots of the nauances get lost in translation- but I guess that will happen with every writer! seemingly the last book in the series- 'Sugar street', should be 'Sugar cane street'.... not sure why they changed that one!!!
If you want a more detailed idea of the plot- check out this link... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cairo_Trilogy
What I love about it so far (and I am still to finish book 1 out of 3!) is how you get to see into the lives of real people and the lifestyle and thinking of the times (ie 1920's and seemingly goes on though the spanning of both the world wars...)) It talks about in detail this contrast of how women 'should' be in contrast to how 'your woman' should be, and talks alot about the ideal female form having plently meat on her bones! Considering bellydance grew out of this era it sheds a lot of light on the culture of the time and how these things would have developed. Not that it talks about dancers really (or not so far!) but wondeerful to see how important a role music, making music and singing come into peoples passions and lives... Not to mention how religion affects people and their families.......
Naguib is said to have written some of his works sitting in El Fishawy Cafe in Khan el Khalili. I find that so hard to believe since he create such multi layers strong characters that it would have been nearly impossible to keep all this in his head with the hussle and bustle of the market going on around him. I do not doubt for one second though that some of the charaters would be created and ideas dreamed up over a sheesha pipe watching life go by in a coffee shop!
Naguib was born in 1911, and first published in 1939. He has written over 30 novels and lots of short stories and many have been made into films. The book I am reading was made into a 3 part series for Egyptian TV and was very popular and very good- so I have been told! In 1988 he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature. His novel 'children of Gebelawi' was banned in Egypt as it upset Muslim extremists,he was even stabbed in the neck because of it. However, the banned book was released just last year as 'Children of the Alley'.He died on 30th August last year aged 94. Right up to the end his favourite pastime was sitting in cafes chatting with young writers and artists. He is remembered as 'the greatest Arab novelist of the 20th century'
I recommend this book- especially if you have ever been to Cairo and can put yourself in the shoes of his charaters........... in the coffee shops, in the streets, by the mosques......
anyway- I'm off now to continue reading!!!!!!!!!