Monday 24 April 2023

Mahfouz, Naguib "Midaq Alley"

Mahfouz, Naguib "Midaq Alley" (Arabic: زقاق المدق/Zuqaq El Midaq) - 1947

This is my fifth book by Nobel Prize winning Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz. And every one of them seems to be even better than the last one. But that's probably just because it's the most recent one. They are all brilliant. He was just such a fantastic writer. You get to know the people living in Midaq Alley as if you've lived among them for most of your life.

A war rages in Europe and makes its waves into Egypt, as well, though not the way we might think.

The alley lies in the poorer part of Cairo with its inhabitants belonging to the poorer population, the lower end of the middle class probably. They all have their dreams of a better life, getting out of the street even though most of them know that this is where they belong and that they might not be able to live anywhere else.

It's almost like living in a village. If someone coughs at one end of the street, people on the other side have you dead within five minutes. Everyone knows everyone else's business. That has its advantages and disadvantages, of course.

So, this story could have taken place elsewhere, maybe even on your doorstep but the author tells us the lives of his compatriots. If you haven't read anything by this author, try him.

From the back cover:

"Never has Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz's talent for rich and luxurious storytelling been more evident than in Midaq Alley, in his portrait of one small street as a microcosm of the world on the threshold of modernity. It centers around the residents of one of the hustling, teeming back alleys of Cairo. From Zaita the cripple-maker to Kirsha the café owner with a taste for young boys and drugs, to Abbas the barber who mistakes greed for love, to Hamida who sells her soul to escape the alley, from waiters and widows to politicians, pimps, and poets, the inhabitants of Midaq Alley vividly evoke the sights, sounds and smells of Cairo, Egypt's largest city as it teeters on the brink of change. Long after one finishes reading, the smell of fresh bread lingers, as does the image of the men gathering at the café for their nightly ritual. The universality and timelessness of this book cannot be denied."

Naguib Mahfouz "who, through works rich in nuance - now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous - has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.


  1. I used to have his trilogy from Cairo when I was living there. Somehow, I never got around to read them, and I think I gave them away. Which I regret now.

  2. That was me, Lisbeth. Google does not work with Safari.

  3. Thanks, Lisbeth. I know, Google doesn't seem to work with many posts. I have to check all the time whether my name comes up or not and then "log in" which is ridiculous since I am logged in all the time.

    Still, what a shame you don't have that copy anymore. I have a German edition, otherwise I could give the book to you when we see each other the next time ... Well, maybe you come across a used copy sometime, it really is worth reading, probably more so since you lived ther.

  4. Somehow, I had missed this review. This is the only book I have read so far by him, I was so very inpressed. Loved it a lot:

    1. That can happen, Emma. Looking at your review, I must have seen it but since I hadn't read it, yet, I might have overlooked the review. I have loved everything by Naguib Mahfouz and will try to find more of his fantastic literature.