lunes, 13 de junio de 2011

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz

Like father, like son… This could be the motto that underpins Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz. This might be a rather flippant way of summarising a novel approaching 250,000 words, and yes, there is much more than this in the Egyptian Nobel Prize Winner’s book. But it should be said at the outset that it is family relationships that dominate the book. The work has a broad canvas, but its substance is generally writ small, often within the walls of the family home.

Palace Walk is the first of Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, a series that spans that spans Egypt’s twentieth century. It features the family of al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al Jawad, a shopkeeper. Strangely, there seems to be little that is seen from his point of view, except of course that which he demands. Throughout he remains somewhat aloof, even inscrutable. I would not want to claim this to be a deliberate portrayal of paternal power. But whatever the case, planned or implied, these sketches of family relations are wonderfully credible as well as enlightening.

By contrast, we see much through the eyes of Amina, Ahmad’s long-suffering wife, who appears to tolerate her husband’s nightly excesses without either question or judgment. She even acts independently, just once, and is made to pay for it. There are two daughters, Khadija and Aisha. Khadija, the elder, has unfortunately inherited her father’s looks. Aisha, by contrast, is known for her beauty, and there is much discussion of potential husbands, associated with much anguish on the subject of who should marry first.

The sons are very different characters, but perhaps they each display different aspects of their father. The older ones of course develop an eye for the local talent and this leads to unexpected encounters with their father in unfamiliar surroundings in which he displays talents that no-one in the family suspected he had. The other talents on show are very much anticipated.

When the youngest son befriends members of the British garrison in Cairo at the end of World War One, he is treated very much as a clown, a figure of fun, a role he seems to enjoy. This is clearly not dissimilar to the way the British appear to want to treat the country, not to mention the hated Australians.

Later, when this particular generation marches to demand political representation and power, it is British bullets that deny all rights. Like father, like son, the issues go round and round. Does anything change?

If the reader approaches palace Walk as if it were a nineteenth century novel, its style, length and content will provide great enjoyment and insight. But don’t expect in this great work overt philosophy, analysis or comment. Egypt as described, especially within this family, was just not that sort of place.

No hay comentarios: