Hard on the first English trade publication of any of the 1988 Nobel prize-winner's fiction (The Thief and the Dogs, Wedding Song, and The Beginning and the End--not reviewed) comes this first volume of his celebrated Cairo Trilogy, written in 1952 and originally published in Arabic in 1956. The complete trilogy takes the family of al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad from WW I to the 1952 overthrow of King Farouk. The opening of this first installment finds pious, licentious al-Sayyid Ahmad ruling his family with an iron hand: his wife Amina passively accepts his nightly absences without any idea how much more gregarious he can be than the tyrant she knows; his sons Yasin, Fahmy, and Kamal tremble in his presence and accept his orders without question even though they're aware of his sexual hypocrisy; his daughter Aisha forgoes a marriage proposal because her older sister Khadija hasn't been spoken for. But al-Sayyid Ahmad's authority is increasingly threatened--when he sends his wife away for making a forbidden trip outdoors in his absence, her sons send intermediaries to plead for her; Aisha is pressed to accept a second proposal; Yasin, bored with his arranged marriage, rapes his wife's servant; and Fahmy joins a nationalist group organizing against the British soldiers who lounge outside al-Sayyid Ahmed's house on Palace Walk--until finally he must accept the ultimate chastisement: one of his children is buried in a public ceremony, and not as his child. The leisurely pace of the long opening can be tough going, but Mahfouz gradually weaves his fractious family's history together with that of their troubled, splendid country with a mastery that recalls the Don saga of Mikhail Sholokov. The remaining volumes of the trilogy are due for publication on New Year's 1991 and 1992--reason enough for celebration.