PALACE OF DESIRE by Naguib Mahfouz
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The second volume of Nobel laureate Mahfouz's marvelous Cairo trilogy, first published in Arabic in 1956, picks up the family saga of al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad five years after the killing of his son Fahmy by British troops in Palace Walk. Although the political scene is less troubled than during the war, cultural systems continue their struggle within the family with all the intimate ferocity of a Beethoven quartet. Al-Sayyid Ahmad returns to licentiousness after five years of fidelity to his long-suffering wife Amina; his fiery daughter Khadija furiously rejects the authority of her mother-in-law; his divorced older son Yasin uses his apartment in Palace of Desire Alley as the place to seduce Mrs. Bahija, the mother of his fianceÇ Maryam (despised by Yasin's family because of her sympathy for the British) and, later, to betray Maryam with the lute-player Zanuba, not realizing that she's his father's long-term mistress; and his idealistic younger son Kamal defies his father by announcing his intention to go to Teachers College instead of entering the civil service and by writing a sympathetic article on Darwin's blasphemous theory of evolution. The parallels between the family history and the public history of Sa'd Zaghlul, the fallen Prime Minister whose death closes the novel, are generally kept well in the background. But the patience and compassion with which Mahfouz builds up the simplest scenes--al-Sayyid Ahmad reluctantly preparing to return to a round of carousing with charmless Zanuba only to realize that she's grown indifferent to him; Kamal confronting unreachable, half-Parisian Aida Shaddad with his hopeless love for her; Yasin joyfully recognizing Kamal at his favorite brothel--give them an almost Tolstoyan resonance. Mahfouz's alchemical gift makes two years of an ordinary Cairo family's daily life seem supremely important. A splendid achievement.

ISBN: 385-26467-4
Publisher: Doubleday
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