On an Eid Anniversary, Mahfouz’s Final Gifts

My piece today on Al Masry Al Youm:

Nobody feels the joy of the Eid as much as children, and when we were children, we could hardly contain our excitement while waiting for it: pocket money, new outfits, new shoes. We would put on these valuable garments and go out to show them off to the other children of the neighborhood.

“We would also show off our mothers’ kahk (the Eid confection par excellence), all the different varieties, so that instead of one helping, each of us would get five or six. The last time I ate kahk was a long time ago. When I became diabetic I stopped eating sweets, though I had a liking for them.

“That is the way of life. You give up your pleasures one by one until there is nothing left, then you know it is time to go.

From Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber: reflections of a Nobel laureate, 1994-2001, by Naguib Mahfouz and Mohamed Salmawy.

Naguib Mahfouz, who died on this day in 2006, gave unstintingly of his literary gifts. He wrote steadily through the 1930s and 1940s, pausing briefly at the opening of the 1950s after the 1952 revolution. He resumed and wrote on in the late 1950s to the 1980s. These were the years that Mahfouz produced the “Cairo Trilogy,” “Children of Gebelawi,” “Miramar,” “The Harafish” and “Arabian Nights and Days.” In 1988, at the age of 76, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in appreciation for these great novels. Six years later, he was stabbed in the neck by a fundamentalist and near-fatally wounded.

But although the nerves to Mahfouz’s right arm were permanently damaged and he would never pen another big novel, he never stopped working. At the age of 83, as Mohamed Salmawy writes in the introduction to “Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber,” the master learned how to write all over again. But the injury dogged him, and Mahfouz was only able to work for a short time each day. He no longer had the endurance for broad, expansive novels.

So in his last years, Mahfouz embraced a new genre: the exceptionally short and evocative dream story. Keep reading on Al Masry Al Youm.

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