Editor | Fiction
Pan Macmillan India is publishing a collection of hitherto unpublished stories by the renowned Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz to honour the writer on December 11, on his birthday.
Meet the people of Cairo’s Gamaliya quarter. There is Nabqa, son of Adam the waterseller who can only speak truths; the beautiful and talented Tawhida who does not age with time; Ali Zaidan, the gambler, late to love; and Boss Saqr who stashes his money above the bath. A neighbourhood of demons, dancing and sweet halva, the quarter keeps quiet vigil over the secrets of all who live there.
This collection came to light in September 2018 when Egyptian academic Mohamed Shoair stumbled across a handwritten manuscript of fifty stories by Mahfouz with the attached label: ‘For publishing 1994.’ Eighteen of those stories have never been published before and will appear in The Quarter. Resplendent with Mahfouz’s delicate and poignant observations of everyday happenings, these lively stories take the reader deep into the beating heart of Cairo.
Mahfouz was born in Cairo in 1911 and began writing when he was seventeen. A student of philosophy and an avid reader, his works range from reimaginings of ancient myths to subtle commentaries on contemporary Egyptian politics and culture. Over a career that lasted more than five decades, he wrote 34 novels, 13 short story anthologies, numerous plays and 30 screenplays. He was a writer of incredible discipline and every day wrote for one hour, smoked three cigarettes and walked by the Nile.
1994 was a very difficult year for Naguib Mahfouz. The publication of The Satanic Verses brought with it unwanted attention from Islamic extremists, who despite police protection, succeeded in stabbing the 82-year-old novelist in the neck outside his home in Cairo. Mahfouz survived, but the nerves in his right arm were permanently damaged and he could no longer write for more than a few minutes a day. As a result, he dictated most of his stories. For the last decade of Mahfouz’s life most of his work were short narratives, such as Echo of An Autobiography and Dreams.
Naguib Mahfouz’s most famous works in English are The Cairo Trilogy, The Children of Gebelawi, The Thief and the Dogs and Autumn Quail. Mahfouz received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988, the first writer in Arabic to do so. He died in August 2006.