This much-loved Mahfouz masterpiece is a rich account of life in a back street in a poor quarter of medieval Cairo. While the novel focuses on a willful young woman whose ambition to escape the confines of the alley leads her into prostitution, a pageant of other vivid characters, from the cafe owner who likes boys to the man who creates maimed beggars and from the young man with the faithful heart to the rake and the pimp, fleshes out the picture of a society in crisis and transition. Though set during the Second World War, the characters' alienation from the prevailing political system and the desire of many of them to escape the economic and social stagnation of the alley give the work an unexpectedly up-to-date flavor. Mahfouz presents his characters with wry humor and a relish for the contradictions and fallibilities innate in people everywhere (even the alley's beloved spiritual mentor beats his wife). This new translation of one the writer's best known works has been undertaken to celebrate the centenary of his birth on 11 December 2011.
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.
Humphrey Davies is an award-winning translator of Arabic literature from the Ottoman period to the present. Writers he has translated include Yusuf al-Shirbini, Elias Khoury, Alaa Al Aswany, Bahaa Taher, Muhammad Mustagab, Gamal al-Ghitani, Hamdy el-Gazzar, Khaled Al-Berry, and Ahmed Alaidy. He lives in Cairo.