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Palace of Desire by Naguib Mahfouz

Palace of Desire (edition 1991)

by Naguib Mahfouz

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951109,132 (4.07)1 / 110
Title:Palace of Desire
Authors:Naguib Mahfouz
Info:Doubleday (1991), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 422 pages
Collections:Your library

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Palace of Desire by Naguib Mahfouz


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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad is the tyrannical head of his household, demanding total, unquestioning obedience from his wife, Amina, his sons, Yasin, Fahmy and Kamal, and his daughters, Khadija and Aisha. A fearsome and occasionally violent presence at home who insists on strict rules of Muslim piety and sobriety in the house -- for example, his wife is hardly ever allowed to leave the house, to maintain the family's good name -- al-Sayyid Ahmad permits himself officially forbidden pleasures, particularly music, drinking wine and conducting numerous extramarital affairs with women he meets at his grocery store, or with courtesans who entertain parties of men at their houses with music and dancing. Because of his insistence on his household authority, his wife and children are forbidden from questioning why he stays out late at night or comes home intoxicated.

Yasin, the eldest son, is al-Sayyid Ahmad's only child by his first marriage, to a woman whose subsequent marital affairs are the source of acute embarrassment to father and son. Yasin shares his father's good looks, and, unbeknownst to al-Sayyid Ahmad, Yasin also shares his tastes for music, women and alcohol, and spends as much time and money as he can afford on fine clothes, drink and prostitutes. Fahmy, Amina's elder son, is a serious and intelligent law student, who is heavily involved in the nationalist movement against the British occupation;; he also pines for his neighbor, Maryam, but cannot bring himself to take any action. Khadija, the elder daughter, is sharp-tongued, opinionated, and jealous of her sister Aisha, who is considered to be the more beautiful and marriageable. Aisha, meanwhile, is more mellow and conciliatory, and tries to maintain peace. Kamal, the baby of the family, is a bright young boy who frightens his family by befriending the British soldiers who have set up an encampment across the street from the Abd al-Jawad house; he is also very close with his mother and his sisters, and is deeply dismayed when the prospect of marriage for the girls arises.

Major elements of the plot include al-Sayyid Ahmad's philandering, Yasin's cultivation of the same hobbies, Fahmy's refusal to cease his political activities despite his father's order, and the day-to-day stresses of living in the Abd al-Jawad house, in which the wife and children must delicately negotiate certain issues of sexual chastity and comportment that cannot be discussed openly. Through the novel, Yasin and Fahmy gradually become aware of the exact nature of their father's nighttime activities, largely because Yasin begins an affair with a young courtesan who works in the same house as al-Sayyid Ahmad's lover. After glimpsing his father playing the tambourine at a gathering in the house Yasin understands where his father goes at night, and is pleased to find that they have similar interests. Amina, meanwhile, has long ago guessed her husband's predilections, but represses her resentment and grief so intensely that she behaves almost willfully ignorant of the whole matter.

The family provides the novel with its structure, since the plot is concerned with the lives and interrelationships of its members. However, the story is not set in isolation; indeed, the characters themselves are important mediators between issues of local or wider scope. For example, the theme of 'authority' (particularly its establishment and subversion) is woven into both the maturation of the children of the el-Gawad family and the wider political circumstances which provide the novel with its temporal boundaries.

The novel's opening chapters focus upon the daily routine of the el-Gawad family. Amina, the mother of the family, greets the return of her husband, al-Sayyid Ahmad, from his late-night socialising. She rises once again at dawn to begin preparing food, assisted by her daughters Khadija and Aisha. Her sons join their father for breakfast. At this meal, as with any other dealing with the patriarch, strict etiquette is observed. Subsequent chapters proceed to explore the characters of family members, particularly their relationships with one another. The marriage of the children provides a key focus, as do challenges to the supreme authority of the family's patriarch.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
The family of Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad was devastated five years earlier by the death of beloved middle son Fahmy in a revolutionary uprising. Egypt is still loosely under the control of the English but tensions have eased making way for changes to come. Fahmy's sisters are both married now and play a smaller role in this book as does Amina, the long-suffering wife and mother. The remaining men of the family eventually find their way out of grief through their incessant thoughts of women. Ahmad continues to rule his family by day, although with less zeal than in the first book of the trilogy, and haunt the bars and brothels by night. 28-year-old Yasin is a chip off the old block. His particular pattern is marriage and divorce. They both are susceptible to a woman's charms without considering the consequences.

There is a sharp contrast in the behavior of Kamal who has done a lot of growing up since his role of family prankster and all-around brat in the last book. He is a sensitive young man of 17 now who seeks truth and beauty in his life as a young scholar with a keen interest in philosophy and politics. He is in love for the first time, but his is an idealized love that is pure to the point of idolatry. Unfortunately, this love was not returned and he compared the beloved Aida to Egypt with these words: "Has she dismissed the one man she could trust at a time when he was busy defending her rights?" There are hints of political strain in the background of the many lover's quarrels setting the stage for Part Three of the excellent Cairo Trilogy. ( )
2 vote Donna828 | Aug 30, 2012 |
Palace of Desire continues the epic story begun in the first book of Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz’s highly acclaimed Cairo Trilogy. It picks up five years after the end of the first book. The Sayid family is undergoing great change, much like the country of Egypt in which it is set, and this book appears to serve as a transition volume. Although it was not as compelling a read as Palace Walk, its transitional role has me very eagerly anticipating the last book of the trilogy, Sugar Street.

The family is still grieving the death of son Fahmy that provided the shocking conclusion to the first book, but the tyrannical patriarch, who has thankfully eased his stranglehold on the lives of his wife and children, has reverted to the nightly carousing that he had stopped during the five years since Fahmy’s death. Son Yasin, continues in his father’s footsteps with a twist: he is not happy with any woman he marries so he divorces, twice, and is proving to be an embarrassment to his family.

Mahfouz’s shimmering prose continues to impress as he derides Yasin’s poor choices:

”Matters quickly sorted themselves out, probably faster than he had imagined possible. He had gone along with her, thinking that the novelty of her charms would be enough to sustain her appeal for several weeks or a month, but he must have miscalculated. Although her appearance was seductive, it had caused him to commit the greatest folly of a life littered with them. Her years lay concealed behind that beauty like a fever disguised by rosy cheeks. The pounds and pounds of flesh treasured in layers under the folds of her clothes were, as he put it, not quite as appealing when seen stripped naked, for nothing records the effects of a sad life so graphically as the human body.” (Page 129)

The book’s title comes from the house that Yasin inherits from his deceased mother. Although the house does not play a large role in the story, it is a complete dichotomy from the staid residence that his father maintains. Younger son Kamal is heartsick over the loss of a girl and disappoints his father by deciding to become a teacher and attend the lowly Teachers’ College rather than go on to a career in law. The novel ends with the death of Egyptian leader Sa'd Zaghlul, and the spread of a typhoid epidemic, producing uncertainty about Egypt’s future.

You would not be able to enjoy this novel had you not read the first novel in the trilogy. I don’t believe it would make much sense to a reader unfamiliar with Palace Walk. But as a bridge to the last book, it is very well done and provides an interesting transition piece as the dynamics of the family, and of Egypt, change. Highly recommended. ( )
5 vote brenzi | Aug 7, 2012 |
The second novel in The Cairo Trilogy begins in 1926, seven years from where Palace Walk left off. Egypt is no longer a British protectorate, after the passage of the Unilateral Declaration of Egyptian Independence in 1922, but it has not yet won complete freedom from British rule. As a result, the country is in a state of relative calm in comparison to the 1919 revolution, but leaders of different factions, most notably Sa'ad Zaghlul of the Wafd Party, continued to press for independence. Egypt is ruled by its new King, Fuad I, the former Sultan of Egypt during the protectorate period. He and his wealthy supporters are more closely aligned with the British than with the populist Wafd Party, which adds to the nationalists' ever increasing calls for a government led by the people.

Palace of Desire continues the saga of the family of al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, the Cairene merchant owner. He remains an iron fisted tyrant at home, demanding complete loyalty and strict adherence to the Qur'an by his wife and children, while he continues to enjoy the company of his friends, wine and women outside of it. The main character in this second novel is Kamal, al-Sayyid Ahmad's youngest son, who has matured from a wildly passionate and irreverent youth to become an intense but naïve student who loves philosophy and literature and is a fervent supporter of the Wafd Party. His greatest love, however, is for Aïda, the sister of one of his classmates and his closest confidant, who comes from a wealthy family that is aligned with the King rather than the Wafd Party, spends its summers in Paris, and has turned away from the strict teachings of Islam. Kamal's friends reflect the different middle and upper class segments of Egyptian society, and their political and philosophical discussions portray the different viewpoints held by them.

Meanwhile, Kamal's father and stepbrother Yasin provide comic relief, as the two continue to wallow ever more deeply in the mud of hedonism. Kamal's mother, his sisters and their families occupy a more peripheral role than they did in the first novel. There is also less tension and drama outside of the Abd al-Jawad family, due to the absence of British soldiers and street protests that ended four years earlier.

Palace of Desire isn't nearly as compelling as its predecessor, Palace Walk, but it is still a superb portrait of an ordinary middle class Cairene family and Egyptian society in the mid-1920s, and is highly recommended. ( )
2 vote kidzdoc | Aug 6, 2012 |
And the saga continues. If the first book's theme song was "Hypocrisy, thy name is Al-Sayyid Ahmad al-Jawad", the second book in the trilogy can go by "the center can not hold". With the advance of years Ahmid's children slip into adulthood and his grip on his family lessens. His own age (read: mid-life crisis) shakes his confidence. There is also the increasingly modern world seeping in through friends and ideas, which threatens the ancient way of life in the Palace Alleys.
I'm still enjoying the saga! The middle book in a trilogy has the difficult task of propelling the story while still leaving room for a big finish. On to the thrid and final book! ( )
  suniru | Jul 6, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Naguib Mahfouzprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hutchins, William MaynardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kenny, Lorne M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kenny, Olive E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad closed the door behind him and crossed the courtyard of his house by the pale light of the stars.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385264682, Paperback)

The second volume of the highly acclaimed Cairo Trilogy from the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Filled with compelling drama, earthy humor, and remarkable insight, Palace Of Desire is the unforgettable story of the violent clash between ideals and realities, dreams and desires.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:58 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Continuing the story of al-Sayyid Ahmad and his family, this is a fascinating look at Egypt in the 1920s. Increased personal freedoms mix tenuously with traditions of family control, as two of Ahmad's sons court alluring women. Sequel to "Palace walk" and second story in "The Cairo trilogy".… (more)

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