First published in 1956, this is a powerful portrayal of a middle-class Egyptian family confronted by material, moral, and spiritual problems during World War II.
With this realistic 1949 novel, previously published here in a limited edition, the Nobel laureate reveals to Western readers the woes of a petit bourgeois family thrust into poverty in WW II Cairo. The Kamels' private battles, relayed here in engrossing detail, are a microcosm of the Egyptian nation's birth pangs in gaining independence. When their father dies, age-old conventions crumble--one social-climbing son reneges on a betrothal; drugs and illicit sex numb the grief of two self-hating siblings. Redolent of a culture verging on modernity, the work illumines courting rituals, weddings, funerals, food, dress, interior decor and and entertainment. According to Mahfouz, the plight of Egyptian women in the 1940s was complex. The widow Samira is respected, wise and controlling; her daughter Nefisa's physical ugliness is a virtual death sentence, and her skill at needlework a source of embarrassment, not pride. Readers may appreciate this novel's authenticity and rare terrain but will surely be irked by overt politicizing, highly melodramatic prose and a lackluster translation. (Oct.)