Coming Next Month: The Lost Collection of Mahfouz Stories

The first surprise was when acclaimed journalist Mohamed Shoair (@mshoair), in the midst of researching a book about Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006), stumbled across a previously unpublished collection of short stories:

Naguib Mahfouz and his daughter, Um Kulthum.

Shoair had been looking through documents in the home of Mahfouz’s daughter, Um Kulthum, as part of research on his book, The Children of Gebelawi: The Story of a Banned Novel. While doing so, he came across a file of fifty handwritten stories that had a note: “for publishing 1994.” That’s the year Mahfouz, then 82, was stabbed in the neck outside his home. The attack permanently damaged his right arm and, after it, he was unable to write more than a few minutes a day.

Some of the stories in this file went on to be published in Nisf al-Dunia magazine, and some were included in later collections. But Shoair and Um Kulthum found that eighteen of these stories were never published.

In September of this year, Mahfouz’s daughter announced she was looking for a publisher for these eighteen stories.

Even more of a stir was caused when, last month, Mahfouz’s daughter decided on a Lebanese publisher — Dar al-Saqi — to publish the stories. They are set to come out on December 11, Mahfouz’s birthday, which also falls during the 2018 Beirut Arab Book Fair. Dar al-Saqi will publish the collection under the title chosen by Mahfouz’s daughter, “همس النجوم” (The Whisper of Stars).

Al-Saqi’s London-based sister company, Saqi Books, will publish the stories in English in 2019. The name of the translator and other details, such as the English title, have yet to be released.

Previously, the Egyptian house Dar al-Shorouq had published Mahfouz’s Arabic works, and the American University in Cairo Press had published English translations of the Nobel laureate’s works. According to journalist Maya El Hajj, Mahfouz’s daughter would say only that she had chosen the most suitable offer.

The eighteen stories in The Whisper of Stars all take place in Cairo. According to Yasmina Jraissati of the RAYA agency, which represents the collection, each story stands alone, yet some characters reappear, “providing the collection coherence and a tangible atmosphere.” She adds: “Sometimes tender, sometimes funny, sometimes dreadful, almost always ironic, these stories still depict, over 20 years later, an aspect of Cairo’s contemporary society.”

World translation rights — outside of Arabic and English — remain free, and those interest should contact the RAYA agency in Beirut.

For more Mahfouz listen to Bulaq Episode 22, read Ursula Lindsey’s “The World of the Alley: Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo” at The Nation, and find more teaching & reading resources here at ArabLit.