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Nobelist Mahfouz offers here a slender, magical parable of idealism and compromise through a stylized Middle East odyssey, first published in Arabic in 1983. Thwarted in marriage when his fiancee is claimed by the sultan's chamberlain, Qindil Muhammad al-Innabi, called Ibn Fattouma, resolves to go on a pilgrimage to the storied land of Gebel. The tale of his travels is a tale of detours. Passing through the moon-worshipping land of Mashriq, he stays for several years with lightsome Arousa, but is exiled for sharing his Muslim religion with their children. When Hairs, a police state where Fattouma has been staying, conquers Mashriq, he purchases Arousa in a slave auction, but again his bride catches the eye of an influential advisor, and he is sentenced to life imprisonment for speaking out against the advisor. Released after 20 years by another war, he travels to Halba--a land of complete freedom that seems a sly portrait of America--and takes another wife; the reappearance of Arousa, though, reproaches him with his inconstancy to his pilgrimage, and he sets out for Aman, the land of perfect justice whose price is total conformity. Increasingly disillusioned in his nation's betrayal of Muslim beliefs, Fattouma follows Arousa to Ghuroub, where he attaches himself to a holy man who tries to prepare him for the journey to Gebel, but more fighting forces him to press on prematurely, and it is unclear from the ending of his journal whether he ever reaches his elusive goal. What is clear is the simple charm with which Mahfouz dramatizes fundamental questions about tolerance, love, and mortality while condensing a lifetime's worth of experience into 160 pages. Mahfouz is widely considered the most Western of contemporary Arab novelists, but the closest Western analogue here--Pilgrim's Progress starring Sinbad the Sailor--only reinforces the distance between East and West. Still, an ideal introduction to Mahfouz for readers put off by the Cairo Trilogy's expansive length.
Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1992
ISBN: 0-385-42323-3
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1992


FictionAKHENATEN by Naguib Mahfouz
by Naguib Mahfouz
NonfictionECHOES OF AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Naguib Mahfouz
by Naguib Mahfouz
FictionCHILDREN OF THE ALLEY by Naguib Mahfouz
by Naguib Mahfouz