CHILDREN OF THE ALLEY by Naguib Mahfouz
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CHILDREN OF THE ALLEY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The unending conflict between Faith and Reason is given intriguing fictional form in this uneven yet fascinating symbolic allegory by Egypt's 1988 Nobel Prize winner. Though it was originally serialized there in 1959, Mahfouz's deeply provocative novel never did appear in book form in his native country (a slightly expurgated version was brought out in Lebanon in 1967, and a previous English translation, under the title Children of Gebelaawi, was published in the US in 1981 by Three Continents Press). It's the story of the sons, descendants, and other rivals and successors of Gabalawi, a mysterious patriarch who rules over an alley in a motley neighborhood located somewhere between urban Cairo and a threatening nearby desert. Gabalawi, whose great wealth and sovereign power are reputedly ill-gotten, rules tyrannically over "his" people and especially over his five sons. When the management of Gabalawi's estate is entrusted to his youngest son Adham, and the latter is tempted, first by his disgraced older brother and then by his beautiful wife, to pursue secrets deliberately withheld from him, this Adam and his Eve are cast out from their paradisiacally favored status--and the novel's meanings begin to emerge. In the second of five sequential and related episodes, another Moses (Gabal) brings prosperity to a chosen few. Following him, the Christ-like Rifaa preaches scorn for material wealth--but nevertheless becomes the victim of the jealous stewards of Gabalawi's estate. A more militant popular leader, Qassem, reenacts the history of the prophet Mohammed. And, in the cryptic final sequence, the "magician" Arafa, whose arts and sciences are meant to rescue the alley's poor from servitude, becomes the pawn of local ruling authorities, with predictably ruinous results. Gabalawi's arbitrary power remains forever unbroken. Despite its frequent discursiveness, a rich, ambitious, and absorbing (though deeply pessimistic) work: further proof, if any were needed, that Mahfouz's magnificent storytelling powers are wedded to a daring and discerning criticism of life that places him among the greatest of 20th-century novelists.
Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1996
ISBN: 0-385-42094-3
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1995




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