Last summer, news emerged about a cache of lost stories — titled The Whisper of Stars in Arabic — found among the papers of Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz:
As the story unfolded, journalist and author Mohamed Shoair, who discovered the unpublished stories, announced that he had turned up yet more manuscripts. Among these was an autobiography Mahfouz wrote in 1929-30, when he was nineteen years old. Shoair recently introduced an excerpt from that autobiography, translated to Spanish by Pilar Garrido Clemente and Pedro Rojo Pérez, exclusively in El Mundo.
The autobiography, he writes, was after the style of Taha Hussein, who had, in 1929, begun to publish sections of his autobiography, The Days, in the magazine al–Hilal.
Mahfouz referred to this autobiography in 1962, Shoair writes, as “literary training.” In later years, he said that he had lost the manuscript due to a “family robbery,” when a relative pilfered papers from his old house and sold them off. The memoirs, Shoair says, traveled through several countries before finally taking up residence in the Gulf, where he was able to get hold of them as he did research for his book Children of the Alley: The Story of the Forbidden Novel.
As Shoair writes, in the autobiography, one finds echoes of Kamal Abd al-Jawad of The Cairo Trilogy, as well as other characters from his novels. “We return to discover the same stories, through the eyes of the child who sees the revolution from his balcony; who admires the British soldiers for the sweets and foods they offer him; who listens to the talk of the town where his sister lives, and to the suffering brought about by her marriage; and to the life of his mother, who loves to tell stories and walk.”
And truly, by his accounts, Mahfouz was a very naughty young child. From the section of autobiography that appeared in El Mundo:
Lo más importante para la hermana mayor era la confección. Se pasaba días enteros enredada con la máquina de coser o bordando al ritmo de canciones populares. A menudo se sentaba enfrente para observar sus manos, que nunca erraban. Ella no se escapaba de sus bromas pesadas, muchas le tocaban trabajando. Por ejemplo, le sacaba la camisa de su sitio, desenhebraba la aguja, luego se sentaba y usaba la máquina como le venía en gana, con todo esto sentía un disfrute especial. También cogía el banco donde se colocaba la máquina y lo arrastraba como si fuese un carrito o se montaba en él como si de un caballo se tratara. Casi siempre su hermana le dejaba hacer lo que quería, bien sabía que si se enfrentaba a él, acabaría dando gritos y pegándole, no lo detendrían ni una reprimenda ni un castigo. En muchas ocasiones ella acudía a sus fantasías y entretenimientos y le contaba cuentos sobre diablos o ladrones. Él era todo oídos, por tierra, mar y aire, todo le divertía, y es que las historias eran su opio.
Read more in El Mundo.
Also read: From ‘Children of the Alley: The Story of the Forbidden Novel’ (ArabLit) and On Discovering the Lost Manuscripts of Naguib Mahfouz (LitHub)