In Naguib Mahfouz's suspenseful novel a bitter and ambitious nihilist, a beautiful and impoverished student, and a corrupt official engage in a doomed ménage à trois.
Cairo of the 1930s is a place of vast social and economic inequities. It is also a time of change, when the universities have just opened to women and heady new philosophies imported from Europe are stirring up debates among the young. Mahgub is a fiercely proud student who is determined to keep both his poverty and his lack of principles secret from his idealistic friends. When he finds that there are no jobs for those without connections, out of desperation he agrees to participate in an elaborate deception. But what begins as a mere strategy for survival soon becomes much more for both Mahgub and his partner in crime, an equally desperate young woman named Ihsan. As they make their way through Cairo's lavish high society their precarious charade begins to unravel and the terrible price of Mahgub's Faustian bargain becomes clear.
Translated by William M. Hutchins
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.
William M. Hutchins, Professor in the Philosophy and Religion Department at Appalachian State University, has translated numerous works of Arabic literature into English, including four novels by the Nobel Prize laureate Naguib Mahfouz. He has received two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts for literary translation, both for works by Ibrahim al-Koni. His most recent NEA award was for this novel.
"Intriguing.... Dostoyevskyan.... Mahfouz's brilliance lies in portraying the mixture of good and evil in human character.... Mahfouz was Egypt's Balzac." —The New York Times