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.
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.