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The Beginning And The End

by Naguib Mahfouz
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Anchor
  • Publishing date: 20/10/1989
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780385264587
  • ISBN: 0385264585

Synopsis

First published in 1956, this is a powerful portrayal of a middle-class Egyptian family confronted by material, moral, and spiritual problems during World War II.

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  • One of the all-time greats...
    From Amazon

    I read this years ago, but it continues to haunt me. I went on to read his other popular family novels, and loved every single one of them, too. I find that I am always looking for books by him, about him, fiction and nonfiction. He has had a tremendous influence on my life and my own writing. He has motivated me to write stories that have what I would call metaphysical 'weight.' This novel is a great tragedy, and, yes, sad, but with his other books comes humor, too - a wry look at well-defined characters. The man is a metaphorical magician, I might add. Reading him is like riding the scales with a great opera star. Read everything by this stand-out writer. You can't go wrong.

  • The most depressing Mahfouz novel
    From Amazon

    Not a book I'd recommend for those who haven't read Mahfouz yet. This is certainly the most depressing of his books. His other stories also have the 'despite all our efforts we're doomed to failure' sense to them, but this totally takes the cake. :) Read it after you've become acquainted with other Mahfouz novels like 'Midaq Alley' or 'The Miramir'.

  • A Classic Tragedy
    From Amazon

    It is so fascinating to read these reviews. How differently we all see things. I do appreciate some of the commentary here, such as those who spot problems with the translation and see overt politicizing from Mahfouz in this work. However, this book so captivated me, and the writing style is easy and fluid (I hate convoluted writing, and this is not like that at all). From the opening pages to the end, I was riveted by the plight of the Kamel family as they struggled through a life of poverty and humiliation in Cairo after the passing of their father/husband. Each of the characters just made my heart ache, and this was especially true of Nefisa. Poor Nefisa! And what courage she had, really. She deserved such a better life, as they all did.

    This is a classic tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. I really recommend it, and look forward to reading the Trilogy, which is waiting for me on the shelf.

  • Interesting story of a family divided
    From Amazon

    "The Beginning and the End" is the story of the Kamel family in mid-1940's Egypt, left in poverty by the death of the father. Left to fend for themselves are the mother, Samira, her daughter Nefisa, and three sons, Hassan, Hussein and Hassanein. Hassan is a ne'er-do-well, a thug and drug dealer who lives on the margins of society. Hussein is a fundamentally decent individual, quiet, hardworking, caring and empathetic. We like him a lot better than his younger brother Hassanein, an arrogant, conceited go-getter and social climber who carves himself out a promising career in the military and doesn't care who he tramples on to reach his goals. The tragic figure in this family is the daughter Nefisa, cursed with a homely face that makes marriage an unlikely prospect, and doubly cursed with a rampant sexual appetite that has no sanctioned outlet whatever for an unmarried woman in a muslim society. Hassanein has no problem dumping his fiancee at the drop of a hat when he decides her family isn't of the class he aspires to belong to; he will disown his brother Hassan rather than be connected to petty criminal. But he's brought up short against his sister's descent into prostitution, and his solution shows him in all his appalling soullessness. "The Beginning and the End" shows us a family and a society torn apart by the conflict between tradition and modernity, especially in its depictions of a society in which women's lives are so circumscribed that they have nothing to look forward to except a marriage that may never materialize. Mahfouz is not a very profound writer, but his sympathy for his characters, including the most degraded, is evident; he empathizes, never moralizes, and shows us a convincing picture of a family in torment. I thought the translation was a good one; it's not stilted or overdone and it flows easily from one chapter to the next. Mahfouz has given us in this book an intriguing story of a family divided against itself.

  • overtly political & a horrible translation
    From Amazon

    Although I consider Mahfouz to be one of the very finest writers of the 20th century, I found this novel very dissapointing.

    It is no secret that many of Mahfouz's (early) works were written as a sort of political commentary, as explorations and critiques of Egyptian society and the prevailing power structures. In my opinion this is a severe impediment to a modern reader, especially one unfamiliar with Egyptian history, as we are unable to fully appreciate the political subtexts and place the narrative in a proper historical setting. The introduction to the book is of little help, as it does not properly describe political figures like Ismail Sidki or Taha Hussein, nor does it describe the objectives of the Wafdist party.

    This isn't the only Mahfouz novel that can be read as an allegory, as a social and political commentary, but it is one of his most heavyhanded treatments (excepting his early historical novels, which must almost neccessarily be read as political criticism). I believe that in later works he was able to channel his concerns and beliefs into a more believable and realistic narrative structure, and it may well be the case that this ability was the product of an increasingly liberal and permissive government (i.e., by allowing Mahfouz' characters to discuss their political concerns in a more direct and open way, instead of forcing Mahfouz to address his concerns through more highly structured allegories). Be that as it may, in this novel the characters are chosen to reflect the different elements and views of Egyptian society, but it doesn't come across as being a completely honest portrayal. I don't know that I've articulated my concerns about this very well, but it does seem somehow false. As I've said earlier, our ignorance and separation from 1940's Egypt compounds the problem, as the author's political concerns are of diminished relevance and interest to us.

    The translation was done by Ramses Awad, who also wrote the introduction, and I must say he did a very poor job. One of the most striking problems with the translation is the incessant misuse or mistranslation of the word 'confusion.' The word pops up again and again, on almost every page, and in almost none of the circumstances is it an appropriate choice. It is sometimes used to suggest a sense of embarassment, sometimes to indicate a feeling of discomfort, and sometimes when the character is at a loss for words, or is unsure of what to do. Given the poetic and flowing nature that usually typifies Mahfouz's work, even in translation, Ramses Awad's work on this book is a grave disservice to the author.

    I read this book because I will read any Mahfouz I can get my hands on. If you are looking for an introduction to Mahfouz, or if you just want to read more of him, there are certainly better choices available... The Cairo Trilogy is unsurpassed, and The Journey of Ibn Fattouma, Midaq Alley, The Harafish, and many others are all preferable to this.

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