A review of
Three Novels of Ancient Egypt
by Naguib Mahfouz
In October 1994, six years after he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed in the neck outside his Cairo home. The assailant was carrying out a death sentence pronounced by Umar Abd al-Rahman, a Muslim religious leader who believed that Mahfouz’s novel Awlad Haratina was blasphemous. Mahfouz survived the attack—he died in August 2006, at ninety-four—but his wounds prevented him from holding a pen for the rest of his life. Abd al-Rahman eventually left Egypt for New York, where he helped to plot the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
For the first time, Everyman’s Library has collected Mahfouz’s trilogy of novels about ancient Egypt in one volume. Compared to his better known and dustily realistic Cairo Trilogy, which portrays mid-twentieth-century Cairo in all its menace and squalor, these earlier novels seem grandiose and melodramatic, like a Cecil B. DeMille movie, complete with chariots and a cast of thousands.
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