In this gripping and suspenseful novella from the Egyptian Nobel Prize-winner, three young friends survive interrogation by the secret police, only to find their lives poisoned by suspicion, fear, and betrayal. At a Cairo café in the 1960s, a legendary former belly dancer lovingly presides over a boisterous family of regulars, including a group of idealistic university students. One day, amid reports of a wave of arrests, three of the students disappear: the excitable Hilmi, his friend Ismail, and Ismail's beautiful girlfriend Zaynab. When they return months later, they are apparently unharmed and yet subtly and profoundly changed. It is only years later, after their lives have been further shattered, that the narrator pieces together the young people's horrific stories and learns how the government used them against one another. In a riveting final chapter, their torturer himself enters the Café and sits among his former victims, claiming a right to join their society of the disillusioned. Now translated into English for the first time, Naguib Mahfouz's tale of the insidious effects of government-sanctioned torture and the suspension of rights and freedoms in a time of crisis is shockingly contemporary.
About the Author
NAGUIB MAHFOUZ was born in 1911 in the crowded Cairo district of Gamaliya. He studied philosophy at Cairo University, then worked in various government ministries until his retirement in 1971. His first three published novels were Khufu's Wisdom (1939), Rhadopis of Nubia (1943), and Thebes at War (1944), all of which are set in ancient Egypt. These political and philosophical critiques disguised as historical romances show the unmistakable signs of a burgeoning literary genius. He went on to write more than 35 other novel-length works, plus hundreds of short stories and numerous cinema plots and scenarios, many of which have been made into successful films. Naguib Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1988. In 2006, he died at the age of 95.
Roger Allen is professor of Arabic language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Among his translations are Naguib Mahfouz's Mirrors (AUC Press, 1999) and Bensalem Himmich's The Polymath (AUC Press, 2000).
“A fierce yet subtle novel. . . . Every page smolders.” —The New York Sun“A storyteller of the first order in any idiom.” —Vanity Fair