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Cairo Modern (1945)

by Naguib Mahfouz

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1243163,406 (3.39)8
The novelist's camera pans from the dome of King Fuad University (now Cairo University) to students streaming out of the campus, focusing on four students in their twenties, each representing a different trend in Egypt in the 1930s. Finally the camera comes to rest on Mahgub Abd al-Da'im. A scamp, he fancies himself a nihilist, a hedonist, an egotist, but his personal vulnerability is soon revealed by a family crisis back home in al-Qanatir, a dusty, provincial town on the Nile that is also a popular destination for Cairene day-trippers. Mahgub, like many characters in works by Naguib Mahfouz, has a hard time finding the correct setting on his ambition gauge. His emotional life also fluctuates between the extremes of a street girl, who makes her living gathering cigarette butts, and his wealthy cousin Tahiya. Since he thinks that virtue is merely a social construct, how far will our would-be nihilist go in trying to fulfill his unbridled ambitions? What if he discovers that high society is more corrupt and cynical than he is? With a wink back at Goethe's Faust and Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews, Mahgub becomes a willing collaborator in his own corruption.Published in Arabic in the 1940s, this cautionary morality tale about self-defeating egoism and ill-digested foreign philosophies comes from the same period as one of the writer's best known works, Midaq Alley. Both novels are comic and heart-felt indictments not so much of Egyptian society between the world wars as of human nature and our paltry attempts to establish just societies.… (more)

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English (2)  French (1)  All languages (3)
Showing 2 of 2
This book was interesting, but hard to read. The protagonist, a young college graduate, is difficult to appreciate, but you can't help feeling sorry for him as well. I did enjoy how even with my more than limited knowledge of Egypt, I was able to follow the story and imagine the setting. I didn't care for how the book start by telling the story of college friends, the focus moves to just one of the characters. ( )
  MeganZ | Aug 31, 2011 |
A very good Egyian writer, the story is set in Cairo in the 1930s. It a Faustian story, a young University student, recently graducated full of amition is willing to sell his soul to acheive power and wealth. While there is no deal with the devil like in Faust, he makes a deal with the powerful, the devil, to marry a woman so this man of power can kept his relationship with her. It turns out the woman was once involved with a friend. The main character is willing to let any and all moral, ethical concerns to be forgetten to go after his needs. Of course the story ends badly for all concern. The writing is very good, the view of Cairo, the powerful society is interesting. ( )
1 vote michaelbartley | Jul 23, 2008 |
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The novelist's camera pans from the dome of King Fuad University (now Cairo University) to students streaming out of the campus, focusing on four students in their twenties, each representing a different trend in Egypt in the 1930s. Finally the camera comes to rest on Mahgub Abd al-Da'im. A scamp, he fancies himself a nihilist, a hedonist, an egotist, but his personal vulnerability is soon revealed by a family crisis back home in al-Qanatir, a dusty, provincial town on the Nile that is also a popular destination for Cairene day-trippers. Mahgub, like many characters in works by Naguib Mahfouz, has a hard time finding the correct setting on his ambition gauge. His emotional life also fluctuates between the extremes of a street girl, who makes her living gathering cigarette butts, and his wealthy cousin Tahiya. Since he thinks that virtue is merely a social construct, how far will our would-be nihilist go in trying to fulfill his unbridled ambitions? What if he discovers that high society is more corrupt and cynical than he is? With a wink back at Goethe's Faust and Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews, Mahgub becomes a willing collaborator in his own corruption.Published in Arabic in the 1940s, this cautionary morality tale about self-defeating egoism and ill-digested foreign philosophies comes from the same period as one of the writer's best known works, Midaq Alley. Both novels are comic and heart-felt indictments not so much of Egyptian society between the world wars as of human nature and our paltry attempts to establish just societies.

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