Happy 100th Birthday, Naguib Mahfouz

The Egyptian writer and Nobel Laureate, Naguib Mahfouz, would have turned 100 today.

He is one of my favorite authors.  He wrote over 50 books and hundreds of short stories.  Plainly, I urge everyone to read at least one of his novels. Many of his books are available in English and other translations.

His Paris Review interview portrays a perceptive, tolerant, disciplined and committed writer:

INTERVIEWER

What is the subject closest to your heart? The subject you most love to write about?

MAHFOUZ

Freedom. Freedom from colonization, freedom from the absolute rule of a king, and basic human freedom in the context of society and the family. These types of freedom follow from one to the other. In the trilogy, for example, after the revolution brought about political freedom, Abdul Gawad’s family demanded more freedom from him.

….

INTERVIEWER

Were you religious as a child? Did you go to the mosque with your father every Friday?

MAHFOUZ

I was especially religious when I was young. But my father put no pressure on me to go to Friday prayers, even though he went every week. Later on I began to feel strongly that religion should be open; a closed-minded religion is a curse. Excessive concern with religion seems to me a last resort for people who have been exhausted by life. I consider religion very important but also potentially dangerous. If you want to move people, you look for a point of sensitivity, and in Egypt nothing moves people as much as religion. What makes the peasant work? Religion. Because of this, religion should be interpreted in an open manner. It should speak of love and humanity. Religion is related to progress and civilization, not just emotions. Unfortunately today’s interpretations of religion are often backward and contradict the needs of civilization.

Read the entire interview here:  Naguib Mahfouz, The Art of Fiction No. 129

Several institutions and individuals around the world continue to celebrate the centenary of Naguib Mahfouz.  I have been enjoying Arabic Literature (in English)’s Mahfouz Mondays.

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16 comments

  1. What a wonderful human being is portrayed in the interview. I’m inspired to read his work after this.
    I’m just reading another Egyptian story, Map of Love, by Ahdaf Soueif who was inspired by and close to Mahfouz.

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  2. I had no idea that he had written so much Kinna. I’ve still read only one work and thought it was OK. What would you suggest to be his best work, do you think?

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    • Yeah, his output was tremendous. The American University in Cairo has released a 20 volume set with all his novels. It costs $600 sold as one set! All the best

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