Know Your Laureate of African Origin Part III - Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz
Last week, on the 7th October 2010, lovers of African Literature kept their fingers crossed waiting for the Nobel committee to announce their choice of the laureate for 2010. Ngugi wa Thiong'o, whose latest novel, The Wizard of the Crow, caused the Arap Moi government to go in search of its main character, and when upon finding that it is a creation of the author caused him (the government of Kenya) to publicly burn a thousand copies of his book, was tipped to win the award. The odds were in his favour. And knowing the penchant for the Nobel's committee to always 'dodge' mainstream predictions, I waited with skepticism. Yet, I prayed silently to a god unknown for this great man, who has forsaken all financial enticements to write in his native Gikuyu to win the award. And the Nobel committee never disappointed, they only disappointed me. But for Ngugi to have been an odds favourite to win speaks volumes of the man's contribution to literature and the development of his mother tongue at the expense of financial gain. And so Mario Llosa Vargas won and I have not as yet heard of a single complaint or drama, as was talked about when Herta Muller won last year. Had Ngugi won, he would have been the sixth Nobelist strictly from Africa. Strictly because Albert Camus is linked to Algeria, sometimes.

We continue with the weekly highlight of African Nobelists in Literature. Two years after Soyinka's Nobel award, another African from the North, Egypt, won in 1988. 

Naguib Mahfouz, (11 December 1911 - 30 August 2006) started writing at the of 17, publishing his first novel five years later in 1933. Naguib wrote prolifically, writing ten more books, before the Egyptian revolution in 1952 where he took a short leave of writing. Even then, in 1953 he published one novel and in 1957 published what has been referred to as the Cairo Trilogy - Between-the-Palace, Palace of Longing and Sugarhouse. These books which marked the second phase of his writing career was marked with political innuendos using symbolisms and allegory. 

As an Egyptian writer, Naguib Mahfouz is considered, along with Tawfiq, el-Hakim, as the first of contemporary writers of Arabic Literature to explore themes of existentialism. He published over 50 novels, 350 short stories, dozens movie scripts and five plays over a career spanning over 70 years. At the time of his death, and four years on, he is the only Arabic-language writer to have won the Nobel Laureate in Literature.

Some of his works:
  • Old Egypt (1932)
  • Whisper of Madness (1938)
  • Mockery of the Fates (1939)
  • Rhadopis of Nubia (1943)
  • The Struggle of Thebes (1944)
  • Modern Cairo (1945)
  • Khan El-Kahlili (1945)
  • Midaq Alley (1947)
  • The Mirage (1948)
  • The Beginning and The End (1950)
  • Cairo Trilogy (1956-57)
  • Palace Walk (1956)
  • Palace of Desire (1957)
  • Sugar Street (1957)
  • Children of Gebelawi (1959)
  • The Thief and the Dogs (1961)
  • Quail and Autumn (1962)
  • God's World (1962)
  • The Search (1964)
  • Zaabalawi (1963)
  • The Search (1964)
  • The Beggar (1965)
  • Adrift on the Nile (1966)
  • Miramar (1967)
  • The Pub of the Black Cat (1969)
  • A story without a beginning or an ending (1971)
  • The Honeymoon (1971)
  • Mirrors (1972)
  • Lover under the rain (1973)
  • The Crime (1973)
  • al-Karnak (1974)
  • Respected Sir (1975)
  • The Harafish (1977)
  • Love above the Pyramid Plateau (1979)
  • The Devil Preaches (1979)
  • Love and the Veil (1980)
  • Arabian Nights and Days (1981)
  • Wedding Song (1981)
  • One hour remains (1982)
  • The Journey of Ibn Fattouma (1983)
  • Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth (1985)
  • The Day the Leader was Killed (1985)
  • The Hunger (Al-Go'a) (1986)
  • Speaking the morning and evening (1986)
  • Fountain and Tomb (1988)
  • Echoes of an Autobiography (1994)
  • Dreams of the Rehabilitation Period (2004)
  • The Seventh Heaven (2005)
Read about him here and there.


  1. Wow, over 50 novels? That is impressive! I liked the first book of the Cairo Trilogy so will be looking forward to reading more at some point.

  2. I read your review of it. He has an impressive oeuvre.

  3. Heard so much about the Cairo Trilogy but never read him. I hope to do so someday. This is an insightful piece!


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