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Midaq Alley

by Naguib Mahfouz
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Anchor
  • Publishing date: 01/01/1992
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780385264761
  • ISBN: 0385264763


Considered by many to be Mahfouz's best novel,  Midaq Alley centers around the  residents of one of the hustling, teeming back alleys  of Cairo. No other novel so vividly evokes the  sights and sounds of the city. The universality and  timelessness of this book cannot be denied.

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  • Quiet desperation, Egyptian style
    From Amazon

    Thoreau said that "most men lead lives of quiet desperation." This wonderful novel, set in Cairo, Egypt, during WWII, beautifully illustrates that point. Midaq Alley is just what it sounds like, an out of the way alley in a big city where most of the inhabitants are just getting by, or worse. Some accept their fate, accepting it as God's will. Others are very unhappy with their lot in life and are determined to better themselves. Only one of them succeeds, but it is debatable whether the fate of that character, Hamida, whose way out is prostitution, a life style she is at first seduced into but chooses freely, is better than what she left.

    Midaq Alley has a vibrancy and a sense of community that has all but disappeared in modern urban settings, at least in the US, but probably less so in Egypt. All of its residents know each other and are generally there for each other. All of then live by their wits. One man sells sweets. One is a coffee shop owner and openly homosexual, something I found very surprising in an Islamic society of six and a half decades ago. One woman is a matchmaker. One woman is a landlady. One young man is a barber who goes to work for the British in order to be able to marry the girl he loves, a girl who ultimately proves to be unworthy of him, and is his undoing.

    One of the reasons fiction is valuable is that it gives us an insight into how societies that we may never otherwise come into contact with function. Midaq Alley is such a book. And, although it is tragic, its ultimate message is that life goes on. I highly recommend this book.

  • Social Entrapment
    From Amazon

    Readers will sense the "darkness" that is "enclosed like a trap" as they turn the pages of Midaq Alley. Mahfouz exploits his characters through vivid descriptions. For instance, Uncle Kamil's "legs" that are "like tree trunks" and "his behind" is "rounded like the dome of a mosque" not only puts a physical image to the man, but posits him into the Muslim culture. Mahfouz is clever in his depiction of Midaq Alley, a small part of Old Cairo. He juxtaposes the reality of the British occupation in the bigger picture while focusing on the narrative of simple, middle-class Egyptians who struggle for their identity and hope for survival. Hamida desperately tries to escape her cage, claiming that "everyone in this alley is half dead;" however, she is met with a similar fate when she emerges into the outside world, entrapped into a prison of prostitution. Her "yearning for power centered on her love for money" and she pays the ultimate price with her dignity in "the streets of illicit love." The real genius of Naguib Mahfouz is evident in this novel; it invites the reader into a culture that depicts a social reality of mid 20th century Cairo.

  • A moving novel
    From Amazon

    In this novel, Mr Mahfouz chose to show simple characters living in an area similar to that of his own birth. The richly colourful life of these people is carefully drawn and the story crowds with minor charcters depicted with keen perception and great humour. There is Uncle Kamil the sweet seller, Abbas the barber, Kirsha the café owner, "Dr" Boosh the dentist, Radwan Hussainy the landlord, Sheikh Darwish the former English teacher, Umm Hamida the mariage broker, Salim Alwan the company owner, Husniya and Jaada the bakers, Zaita the cripple maker and Ibrahim Faraj the pimp.
    We see how they are enticed away from their natural roles by the hopes of material gains chiefly through work with the British Army. The novel examines the problems of behaviour and morality: drug addiction, homosexuality, ambitions and dissatisfactions. Perhaps it is time itself which is the novel's principal character personified by the ageless Alley. The aspirations and tragedies of the inhabitants are witnessed with indifference by Midaq Alley. But in the Alley, as in life itself, there is also a lot of gaiety, colour and excitement to enliven the passing scene.

  • See the movie
    From Amazon

    This weekend I saw an adaptation of this book in a movie starring Salma Hayek. From the reviews I have read here, it is very similar, but takes place in Mexico. I was spellbound by the movie, and will therefore try to get the book.

  • Great fiction from Egypt
    From Amazon

    Regardless of the poor translation (the one I read by Trevor Le Gassick) this was still immensely enjoyable, the characters shone through and the scene descriptions are so rich I felt like I was there, it was just written (or translated) in such a stilted way that it felt like English was definitely not the narrator's first language. I had previously read the Cairo trilogy, the story of several generations of a family, Midaq Alley is quite different, a soap opera about the people of the alley set over a short period of time, fast paced and very funny at times despite the bleak lives of the characters.

    The setting is WWII, a generally prosperous time for the people in this story, some content with life in the alley, and others more ambitious dreaming of nothing but escape. Strong characters with interconnected stories draw the reader into their lives - Kirsha the cafe owner with young male lovers, Hamida who is lured into prostitution, fat Uncle Kamil and his sweet shop, Abbas the barber who joins the army just for money to win a bride, Zaita the beggar and grave robber who performs surgery for a fee to create other beggars, Mrs. Saniya Afifi who will pay anything to a marriage broker to get herself a young husband, and several others with stories of their own to tell.

    I enjoy books that expose me to totally different cultures and ways human beings adapt to what life throws at them. Midaq Alley was a journey to another time and the other side of the world.

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