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Midaq alley by Nagib Mahfuz
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Midaq alley (original 1947; edition 1981)

by Nagib Mahfuz

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8831810,031 (3.79)139
Member:chuck_ralston
Title:Midaq alley
Authors:Nagib Mahfuz
Info:Washington, DC : Three Continents Press [1981] Paperback ; ix, 246 p. ; 18 cm.
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Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz (1947)

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English (11)  Spanish (3)  Norwegian (1)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
I am trying to read 10 books a year from the 1001 Books to read Before you Die list. With this book I have now read 226 from the combined list and 5 this year. I know that will leave me far short of reading all 1001 unless I live to some incredibly advanced age. That's okay because I really just want to read the books that are generally agreed to be excellent. This book was a LibraryThing group read for August 2015 and while not the best book from the list was still very interesting because it is a window into a society that I have never explored before.

Midaq Alley is a short street in Cairo with some businesses and some residential housing. Most of the people who live there are just struggling to get by. The barber, Abbas, is young and likes living in the alley plying his trade in the small shop at the entrance. He is persuaded to leave the alley to join the British army (the time period is the latter stages of World War II) so that he can earn enough money to wed Hamida. Hamida is a lovely young woman living in the alley with her adoptive mother who has attracted not just Abbas but also Salim Alwan, the well-off proprietor of a perfume business in the alley. Salim is already married but he wants to add Hamida as his second wife. There are other interesting characters in the alley. Kirsha owns a cafe and sells narcotics and is a homosexual although he is married with children. Zaita is a perpetually dirty man who lives in a small room off the bakery and makes his living by creating cripples who can then beg more effectively. Hamida's adoptive mother, Umm Hamida, is a marriage broker with fingers in all sorts of pies. As these people interact and life goes on some things stay the same and some things change.

I really felt immersed in the Egyptian culture while I was reading this book. Mahfouze won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988. The jury said "who, through works rich in nuance--now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous---has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind." That says it much better than I ever could. ( )
  gypsysmom | Aug 20, 2015 |
Set in the Cairo of the mid-1940's, this novel through a series of vignettes depicts the lives of several individuals living in one of the cities alleys. With so many narrators, most are not fully developed into three dimensional people; instead each seems a caricature. However, through the variety of the caricatures and the many episodes, Mahfouz is able to create his portrait of the whole of Egyptian society and the forces beliefs, and habits that seem to thwart any hope of betterment of the characters or their place in society. I found it to alternate between a horrifying and charming world. ( )
  ELiz_M | Sep 28, 2013 |
Midaq Alley is a small, narrow street, but a community unto itself. Here, amid the feverish bustle of wartime Cairo, life goes on as it seems it always will. Uncle Kamil naps at the door of his sweets shop. The baker's wife berates her husband. Salim Alwan is busy making money and taking aphrodisiacs to feed his timeless libido. Mrs. Saniya Afify decides to put an end to years of widowhood and visit the professional matchmaker. Zaita the beggarmaker gives one of his clients a profitable new deformity. And Abbas the young barber gazes longingly at a window in hopes of catching a glimpse of Hamida, the girl he adores.

Hamida herself is the central character of the novel. An orphaned girl taken in by the matchmaker, she has few prospects in life despite her beauty. She dresses in rags. Her gorgeous thigh-length hair smells of the kerosene she uses to kill the lice. Yet she has an unconquerable pride and a fearsome temper. Even when she is fond of a man, she can't help lashing out with her sharp tongue at every chance, and she seems stubbornly determined to spurn the few opportunities life hands her.

In this community of generally high religious values there is also Kirsha, the café owner. Late in life he has developed a fondness for hashish, as well as for the intimate company of young men. His loud arguments with his wife and adult son have made him the scandal Midaq Alley. Yet the same group continues to gather daily at Kirsha's café for their evening tea and a smoke.

The novel takes place in the mid-1940s when the air raids and the threat of German occupation have passed, but the city is still a hub of military activity. The Allied armies provide both an economic windfall, with jobs aplenty for young men, but also the temptations to vice. There is still, however, a sense of timelessness that leaves Midaq Alley, not isolated, but somehow insulated from the passing centuries. This novel is like an exquisitely painted miniature depicting all of life's pleasures and sorrows in a tiny frame. ( )
7 vote StevenTX | Aug 25, 2012 |
Mahfuz inserisce il romanzo in un’unita spaziale precisa, come se in realtà fosse il Vicolo stesso, anziché la folta schiera di personaggi, il vero protagonista del romanzo. E’ l’immobilità (del tempo, della società, delle persone), il punto cruciale del romanzo. Vite intere scorrono nel Vicolo, come in un’isola fuori dal tempo. Tutti i personaggi che orbitano intorno ad esso vivono il proprio dramma personale: i ricchi vivono il disagio familiare o il problema dell’identità sessuale, i poveri lottano per una posizione più elevata, cercando di conquistarla con mezzi ambigui. Chi attraverso la guerra, quella che si crede infinita, contro Hitler, fonte di fortuna inaspettata (saranno poi gli stessi personaggi ad autocriticarsi per il fatto di gioire di qualcosa di così orribile). E chi, come Hamida, la giovane opportunista, che cerca fortuna come prostituta, rompendo gli impegni d’amore presi, per lei veramente poco importanti. Tutto questo non può che portare al dramma finale, ma anche di questo il Vicolo si fa beffe e in pochi giorni tutto è passato e tutto resta immobile.
Lo stile di Mahfuz è immersivo e delicato, riuscendo a dipingere Il Cairo nei suoi colori e odori. La gestione dei molti personaggi è fluida e lo stacco tra uno e l’altro non comporta noia o disorientamento, come in altri autori. ( )
  Zeruhur | May 26, 2012 |
Mahfuz inserisce il romanzo in un’unita spaziale precisa, come se in realtà fosse il Vicolo stesso, anziché la folta schiera di personaggi, il vero protagonista del romanzo. E’ l’immobilità (del tempo, della società, delle persone), il punto cruciale del romanzo. Vite intere scorrono nel Vicolo, come in un’isola fuori dal tempo. Tutti i personaggi che orbitano intorno ad esso vivono il proprio dramma personale: i ricchi vivono il disagio familiare o il problema dell’identità sessuale, i poveri lottano per una posizione più elevata, cercando di conquistarla con mezzi ambigui. Chi attraverso la guerra, quella che si crede infinita, contro Hitler, fonte di fortuna inaspettata (saranno poi gli stessi personaggi ad autocriticarsi per il fatto di gioire di qualcosa di così orribile). E chi, come Hamida, la giovane opportunista, che cerca fortuna come prostituta, rompendo gli impegni d’amore presi, per lei veramente poco importanti. Tutto questo non può che portare al dramma finale, ma anche di questo il Vicolo si fa beffe e in pochi giorni tutto è passato e tutto resta immobile.
Lo stile di Mahfuz è immersivo e delicato, riuscendo a dipingere Il Cairo nei suoi colori e odori. La gestione dei molti personaggi è fluida e lo stacco tra uno e l’altro non comporta noia o disorientamento, come in altri autori. ( )
  Zeruhur | May 26, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mahfouz, Naguibprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Branca, PaoloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eksell, KerstinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Many things combine to show that Midaq Alley is one of the gems of times gone by and that it once shone forth like a flashing star in the history of Cairo.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385264763, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:34 -0400)

Never has Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz's talent for rich and luxurious storytelling been more evident than in this outstanding novel, first published in Arabic in 1947. One of his most popular books (and considered by many to be one of his best), Midaq Alley centers around the residents of one of the teeming back alleys of Cairo.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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