Midaq Alley

( 18 )

Overview

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.

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Written in the 1940s, this novel by the Egyptian Nobel laureate Mahfouz deals with the plight of impoverished classes in an old quarter of Cairo. The lives and situations depicted create an atmosphere of sadness and tragic realism. Indeed, few of the characters are happy or successful. Protagonist Hamida, an orphan raised by a foster mother, is drawn into prostitution. Kirsha, the owner of a cafe in the alley, is a drug addict and a lustful homosexual. Zaita makes a living by disfiguring people so that they can become successful beggars. Transcending time and place, the social issues treated here are relevant to many Arab countries today. With this satisfying tale, Mahfouz, often called the Charles Dickens of Arabic literature, achieves a high level of excellence as a novelist and storyteller. Highly recommended.-- Ali Houissa, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, N.Y.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385264761
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/28/1991
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 163,075
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006) was born in the crowded Cairo district of Gamaliya. He wrote nearly 40 novel-length works, plus hundreds of short stories and numerous screenplays. He was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1988.

Humphrey Davies is the translator of a number of Arabic novels, including The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany (AUC Press, 2004). He has twice won the Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translations for his translations of novels by Elias Khoury.

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Reading Group Guide

1) How would you identify the novel you are reading in terms of style and genre? What does it have in common with Western literature you have read? What about it appears to be particularly "Middle Eastern"?

2) What did you find familiar in Mahfouz's stories? What parallels can you find in your own culture or experience to the life in Egypt he describes?

3) What elements of this novel are unfamiliar/alien to you? Do these merely reflect cultural differences or do they also address larger, more universal themes?

4) It has been suggested by many writers that there is a great contrast between the men and the women in Mahfouz's novels; that the men are weaker and more flawed than the women, who are strong and dependable. Does this appear to be true in the novel(s) you have read? How would you characterize the women in Mahfouz's fiction?

5) Mahfouz once said "If I had traveled, like Hemingway, I'm sure that my work would have been different. My work was shaped by being so Egyptian." Focusing on the particular works you have read, in what ways do you imagine the tone of the narrative and the perspective might change had the text been written by a more "worldly" author?

6) How does Mahfouz's literary rendering of Egypt affect your political perception of the country? Does it alter any preconceptions you may have brought to the work for better or for worse?

7) In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, Mahfouz stated: "Man remembers what hurts more than what pleases." In what ways is this dictum borne out in his writings?

8) Many of Mahfouz's characters are derived from the lower and middle class strata of society. Yet he chooses to imbue all of his characters with a language that is considered to be classical literary Arabic as opposed to the colloquial dialects that would be more natural to their stations in life. Why do you think he does this? What effect does he achieve through the employment of this universal tongue?

9) When Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel Prize, many Arab and Egyptian intellectuals responded with mixed feelings. While on the one hand they were both pleased and proud that one of their own had achieved such recognition, on the other they wanted the world cautioned that his political views were not necessarily representative of the average Egyptian. What examples do you find in his writing that lead you to believe that there is a more "Western" sensibility at work here?

10) From 1949 to 1957, the books that Mahfouz produced were semi-autobiographical works of social realism. From 1961 to 1967, his output changed, with the pieces becoming existential and concerned with souls in a state of spiritual crisis. Since then, his approach has been eclectic. Consulting the publication chronology provided at the back of this guide, locate the period in which the book you have read came out, and discuss what elements there are in the writing style that identify it as belonging to that particular genre.

11) The novels, while possessing a timeless quality, are very much informed by a sense of place. Can you picture the events depicted here or the sensations of the characters occurring in our own society at any given point in our history? If so, when?

12) The Koran instills the belief and deference to one God. Often, the characters will refer to the "work of God" or view their fortunes as being "in God's hands." Discuss the theme of fate vs. personal determination that runs throughout the novels. How do religious beliefs protect and hinder us? How do they affect our ability to act?

13) With our Western ideology, we would view the lives of many of these women depicted as being

little better than that of prisoners. But what does Mahfouz— with the advantage of his Egyptian heritage— think of their lives? Do you imagine that he shares our opinion that they are repressed, or do you think that he finds their existence satisfying and as it should be?

14) Discuss the role of women's complicity in their own repression— both in Cairene society and in our own— as typified by classic examples in the text of blaming the victim.

15) Like all societies, this one has superstitions that are specific to it. Identifying them, discuss the negative and positive functions that these superstitions serve for Cairene society.

16) The narratives are almost completely serious in tone, with occasional pinpoints of humor brightening the way. Discuss the techniques employed by the author to inject humor into the tales, and your opinion as to whether or not he is successful.

17) Can we— hampered by our Western vision— appreciate the inherent beauty of a culture so different from our own, or does our perception of the wrongness of human oppression blind us to this?

18) Usually, the author refers to his characters by name. But, now and again— particularly during more dramatic moments— he will refer to them as "the man" or "the woman." What effect do you suppose that Mahfouz is trying to achieve through his fashioning of this style?

19) In 1919, Egypt experienced a brief period of rebellion against the British colonial rule. In 1952, there was a revolution. Situating the piece you have read against this historical backdrop, how does Mahfouz's writing speak to you about a nation experiencing internal unrest before, during, and after these periods of turmoil?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 18 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(2)

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(4)

3 Star

(9)

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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2007

    a student's honest review

    The book was very interesting with many big events, which they all took place in a town, Midaq Alley. The story wasn't really based on one main character which made me upset because the book was kind of random. The book was so interesting that it made me read the whole book in two days because new events were happening in the story every chapter. The book was not boring at all because of new things happening all the time. Therefore, I recommend this book to readers who like to learn about cultures from the Middle East.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2007

    Midaq Alley Review

    This was not my favorite story it can get very hard to follow at some points. But mostly overall the characters are generally interesting, like the Cafe owner who has a taste for Drugs and young boys. Its got a unique way of telling the story and its generally interesting to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2007

    Midaq Alley

    I thought that this book was good but it could have been better. The reason while I didn't love it is because it didn't have on distinct main character. It jumped around from character to character. It got a little confusing. But over all it was o.k. I would recommend it for older groups and not little kids.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2007

    Midaq Alley

    Midaq Alley isn't the type of book i would normally choose to read. Although it had a lot of major events going on throughout the story, i just could not 'get into it'. However, i did learn a lot about African culture that both took my by surprise and interested me in learning more. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy learning about families and their different cultures.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2007

    Midaq Alley

    This book i thought was just alright. I had a hard time getting into the book because it just was not that exciting. Also it was kind of hard to follow because it kept jumping around from characters and i never could tell who the main character was. I probably would not recomend this to other people especialy younger ones because it is hard to follow and unless you like a challenge and like to read some different types of stories i would stay away from this book. Other then that it has some interesting and catchy stories so if you are into that type of stuff go ahead.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2007

    k

    A superb book, thats it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2007

    A reviewer

    I did not really like this book so much... it never really got me hooked to it. the plot of the story was a little bit confusing.I liked the way that the author showed the life of people in 2nd world countries,and how they made the most of what they had.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2007

    My View Of The Book Midaq Alley

    I thought the book Midaq Alley was a hard book to read and kind of confusing. It was alright at some parts but mostly confusing. I would not recommend this book to read if you are not a advanced reader.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2007

    Midaq Alley

    In this book Midaq Alley it is hard to follow all of the characters in this book because it jumps around a lot. Personally i did not like this book that much because it never really caught my attention. Personally i would not suggest this book to other people ecspecially younger ones because they will have a hard time understanding what is going all. Eventhough it had some interesting stories i would not read it agian.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2007

    i recommend

    I enjoyed this book very much. One of the only things missing was the depth in each character. I wanted to learn about each character further into the book, but the book didn¿t supply much extra information about each the characters. Mahfouz¿s is a good writer though. He gave great description of the settings.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2007

    Midaq Alley

    Midaq Alley is a story that takes place in Nigeria, Africa. There are plenty of characters that will keep you on your feet. Each character is explained in full detail. All of the characters are introduced right off the bat which is a great way to start a story. Midaq Alley is a type a story a high schooler would read even a middle schooler if they were really interested in different kinds of books. I didn't really like this book but I had to read it because it was for a school thing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2007

    Good African Story

    Midaq Alley is a good story to read on free time. The charaters are introduced in depth, and each have their own personal storys and thoughts. The book has lots of ideas that can be undestood by older readers, such as some of the jokes, which leave it for older readers to understand the text completly. The book has some surprising twists and turns that make you want to keep reading and finish the chapter. This book is surprisingly well writen, with in-depth characters and settings. I can recommened this book to readers in high school looking for a change in pace of regular books. This book, however, is not a pick up and read book. To understand the book and plot, you must read all of the pages and chapters, and not just skim. Overall, this was a good book and I recommened this book for any reader that wants an intresting and different book. Enjoy reading!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2008

    Midaq Alley

    I thought Midaq Alley was an okay book. I love reading, but Midaq Alley did not grab my attention like other books do. Truthfully I found it almost boring. Some chapters were really slow, and then others seemed to speed up somewhat. I wouldn't reccomend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2008

    Literature Circle

    Midaq Alley is a tiny, poor neighborhood that is affected by world war 2. Several males wantes Hamida's lovely young daughter, who is engaged in turn to several men but ends up an exotic dancer and prostitute after being sweet-talked by handsome and wealthy pimp Ibraham Faraj. I personal think that this book was confusing but, if you really put thought into it you could understand it. It didnt really catch my attention. Overall, it was an okay book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2007

    Suspense to the end

    This story will keep any writer hooked once they understand it. This was a great read for me. However it skipped around in the chracters in a confusing, yet still entertaining way. The most intense scenes begin to hit you, once you reach the second half of the book. The ending was what caused me to recomend this, due to no matter how much you forshadow you'll always miss the actual ending. It tells of the struggles and pleasures which happened not too long ago in Egypt. It shows how the new freedom the citizens have gained is not so easy to maintain and how exaggerated punishments are in Cairo.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2007

    A reviewer

    This story was alright. I did not like it so much because you did not know characters very well. It also was a little confusing at times about what was going on. Other then that, the book had a good story to it. It even has some humor to it. Overall, I would say that this book is not the greatest.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2005

    A penetrating story

    Mahfouz is an amazing writer. So it is not surprising that this book is a great story. A brilliant portrayal of Middle eastern and more especially Arab life, Mahfouz succinctly captured in this book the rich and wonderful cultural lives of men and women in Egypt in the first half of the last century. Above all, it tells a story of people in a time when their land is trying to shake off the degrading legacies of colonialism and find a new sense of dignity.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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