THE HARAFISH by Naguib Mahfouz
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This saga by the Egyptian Nobel laureate and author of the acclaimed Cairo Trilogy tells the story of the tumultuous rise and fall of the al-Nagi family, whose members struggle throughout the generations to recover its honor and live up to its glorious past. Ashur Abdullah, abandoned as an infant by the gates of a monastery in a poverty-stricken alley, is found and raised by the devout Sheik Afra Zaydan and his kind wife, Sakina. As he grows, Ashur's enormous physique belies his gentleness and piety, and he lives a modest life (despite a divorce and remarriage) as a cart driver, until his miraculous evasion of a plague and unyielding charity toward the common people of the alley -- the harafish -- cause them to rename him Ashur al-Nagi (Ashur the Survivor) and elevate him to clan chief. He enjoys a celebrated reign, but his sudden, mysterious disappearance one day leaves his son, Shams al-Din, to try to recover control of the clan and causes the people to weave legends of his life and supposed return. The book traces the successive generations of his family, whose fortunes vacillate widely throughout the years. Amid episodes of great drama and intrigue that include love affairs, marriages, divorces, betrayals, murders, abandonments, ascensions to power, and falls from grace, we meet such memorable characters as Samaha Sulayman al-Nagi, who flees execution for a murder he did not commit and who in exile, marries an independent woman, Mahasin, only to run from the law again; Zahira, a bewitching servant girl who divorces one man so that she can marry her stepson, and then divorces again to marry Aziz; and the last Ashur al-Nagi, who lives honorably despite his brother Fayiz's corrupt business dealings and suicide. This Ashur becomes the clan chief, at last restoring the family's reputation and realizing his namesake's legacy. Mahfouz's consummate storytelling abilities, marked by operatic events, vibrant characters, and resonant writing, result in another triumphant epic.
Pub Date: April 5th, 1994
ISBN: 0-385-42324-1
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1994


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