Two books! These are two novellas by the Nobel Prize winning Egyptian writer (writing in Arabic) one from the 1960s and 1970s. He’s most famous for a handful of “modern” Egyptian novels like Adrift on the Nile as it tracks a kind of metropolitan Egyptian culture, his trilogy of contemporary 20th century novels — The Cairo Trilogy. He also wrote a less well-known trilogy of “ancient Egypt” as well.
This short novel begins with a young man talking with his single mother about this unknown father. This conversation leads him begin a search for his father. This is a short novel, but it’s structured like a kind of journey or travelling novel as each subsequent chapter puts him in new and novel situations that both lead him to and distract him from his search. The primary central focus of the novel begins when he meets a young married woman who he begins sleeping with. Under her charm, he is convinced to at least consider murdering her husband for her so they can get together. It goes from there.
This part has led the novel, as the blurbs in the extra text to compare the novel to James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. But this novel is not a noir, really, and our protagonist is more vulnerable and naive because of his youth, but also his fatherlessness is seen as having a void in his life, and his soul that allows him to fall prey to the various influences in the novel.
Fountain and Tomb
Fountain and Tomb is a very different novel. If I had to compare it to anything, it would be the Federico Fellini film Amarcord, and other novels that are not exactly full novels and narrative so much as a series of vignettes. These are collected and told as a sort of collective storytelling, or more so where a collective group of people and the town itself is the main character. They don’t circle back as they might in a Robert Altman film or the wonderful Akira Kurosawa film Dodeskaden. Instead, these are 78 or so short little narrative pieces about the town itself. What stands out to me about this book is that it seems to be maybe have been the initial push to translate Naguib Mahfouz’s work. This is an academic translation handled by collaborators, and what is annoying about this one, like a lot of similar ones is that they change the title. This title doesn’t really make sense to me and the original title is something like Tales from the Alleys which is SOOO much better and also accurate and also what the author wanted. It’s bizarre.
The final tally for these two novel is that they help to round out my experience with Mahfouz. I read the first of the Cairo trilogy and really found it wonderful. It was also a little exhausting, and I don’t tend to read series straight through, so I did go back to it, but like I said, it was great. I have access to about 5 different other novellas of his.