Midaq Alley

Midaq Alley

by Naguib Mahfouz, Najib Mahfuz

Paperback(Reprint)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385264761
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/28/1991
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 257,376
Product dimensions: 5.21(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.67(d)

About 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).

Reading Group Guide

There are nineteen works of fiction currently available in paperback from Anchor.  Because of the many universal themes of Mahfouz's work, and the variety of titles from which one can choose, this guide has been designed to provide you with questions that can apply to any or all of the books by Mahfouz which you choose to read.   The questions offer new perspectives and context for your conversations.


Although each of Mahfouz's novels is a unique reading experience, in an effort to guide you in making a selection, it is suggested that you might particularly be interested in one of the four following titles, each of which represents a different decade of his career:  Palace Walk (1956), Midaq Alley (1966), The Harafish (1977), and The Journey of Ibn Fattouma (1983).  For your convenience, a complete listing is included in this 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?

Customer Reviews

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Midaq Alley 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
janetaileen on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This book was my introduction to Naguib Mafouz. He was described to me as the Dickens of Egypt. After reading this, I understood how he earned this honor. A wonderfully written book...a joy to read.
Luli81 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Tale about the lives of the different neighbours who live in Midaq Alley.
TadAD on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This book was my introduction to Egyptian writers in general, and Nobel Prize winner Mahfouz in specific. In this book, I found him a gifted story-teller to whom I will definitely return.This novel is told as a series of interlocking stories that portray the lives of a small group of individuals over a short period of time during the waning days of World War II. The stories are set in Midaq Alley, a poor backstreet in Cairo. As the book unfolds, you realize that the alley is a small village within the city; its inhabitants live, socialize, work and marry largely within its confines. Some embrace this sense of community; some feel confined and struggle to escape. The alley, itself, might almost be considered the major character of the book. Mahfouz fills it with a character of its own: shabby, cynical, vibrant, faintly corpulent. It seems to sit there, observing the individuals that run about within it, loving them in its own distant way. This sense of intimacy made me feel that I was watching the events through the alley's eyes in an odd sort of first person narrative.There is a vibrance to the human characters who populate this story. Each individual, major or minor, is drawn with a keen eye for detail, with affection for their strengths, humor for their foibles and a lack of judgment for their flaws. I felt I knew each of these characters intimately: the inconstant Hamida, ruthless in her desire for wealth and luxury; responsible and kind Abbas, content with his life in the alley but willing to give it up for love; Kirsha, owner of the café, married but with a predilection for young men; Saniya, the miserly landlord obsessed with finding a younger husband; Zaita, the cripple maker who feels nothing but contempt for all but Husniya, the baker who beats her husband.The social changes as Egypt struggles with a modern era, the side-effects with Western cultural imperialism, the role of religious faith in life, all of these provide an unobtrusive background as Mahfouz circulates among his creations, advancing each of their stories bit by bit as the novel progresses. The inherent inter-connectedness of their lives causes their stories to brush against each other until he draws them together in an ending that, though containing sadness, was never bleak or unsatisfying.Highly recommended.
LisaCurcio on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Many of us in the west, when thinking of Egypt, think of pyramids, the Sphinx, and King Tut¿especially those of us in the U.S. Bibliophiles might think of the lost Library of Alexandria. If we have had the opportunity to travel, we might add the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, Abu Simbel, Luxor and Karnak to our mental pictures. All wonderful things, but if you are interested in exploring the life of citizens of mid-twentieth century Cairo, spend some time with Naguib Mahfouz in his very accessible Midaq Alley. As always, Mahfouz masterfully conveys the essence of life in the Cairo not visible to the casual viewer.Midaq Alley is a microcosm. The residents are few. It is very small--two houses with three floors, a café, a bakery, a sweet shop, a barber shop and the offices and warehouse of a merchant. It is the end of World War II. The buildings of the Alley still do not have electricity.We meet three young people: Hussain Kirsha, Abbas and Hamida. Hussain¿s father owns the café. Hussain is the only son. He works for the British Army. Hussain wants to get out of Midaq Alley, and is sure that he will be able to do so through his work because the ¿Hitler will fight for twenty years!¿. Hamida is Hussain¿s ¿sister¿ because Hussain¿s mother was wet nurse to Hamida. She lives with her foster mother, a marriage broker, known as Umm Hamida. Hamida is an angry young woman who desperately wants to leave Midaq Alley, no matter what the cost to do it. Abbas is the young barber, good friend of Hussain and ardent admirer of Hamida. Abbas opened his shop five years before the story begins, and is happy in Midaq Alley. He will leave for only one thing: to make his fortune if it will help him win Hamida as his wife.Kirsha, the café owner, is a hashish addict and likes boys. He brings scandal to his family. Radwan Hussainy owns one of the houses and rents to Kirsha. Hussainy has endured a life of endless sorrow, including the loss of all of his children, but ¿his faith rescued him" and he is a happy and holy man. He is also the person to whom the others go with their problems. Mrs. Saniya Afify, a wealthy widow owns the other house. She rents to Umm Hamida, and, at the tender age of 50, has decided she would like to marry again, and wants a younger man. There is also Dr. Booshy, the dentist; Sheikh Darwish, a former English language teacher who lost everything when he was fired from his job but is respected, taken care of and beloved by all; Uncle Kamil, owner of the sweet shop; Zaita, the cripple-maker; Husniya, the bakeress; and the merchant, Salim Alwan, who should be happy with his wealth and his successful family, but is not.With spare yet expressive language and dialogue, Mahfouz interweaves the stories of the lives of these characters. We spend just a short time in the alley, but are completely entwined as events completely change the future for some yet leave the Alley the same. I was quickly caught up, and the story did not let me go, even at the last page.
TomChicago on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is not about Mayberry. It is about village life, but it doesn't hide the passion and darkness that bubbles up from the depths of the villagers. That said, it delivers a great warmth and humor toward the very recognizable denizens of the alley. It is a simple story, but resounds with real pain and joy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A superb book, thats it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.