Book Reviews,  FICTION,  Islam,  Middle East,  Prize Winner

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz *** (of 4)

A larger-than-life father, a household dictator, terrifies his 1920s Cairo household into submitting to his divine will. Divine, in the sense, that his actions are supported by the expectations and practices of Islam. His wife is so subservient, neither she nor her two daughters, have left the house for twenty-five years. Yet, Dad, as strict as he is spends his evenings drinking and carousing with women. While he is gone his three sons make their way in the world and share their visions with the women of the house. If strict Islamic domination of women and children is hard to bear, Mafhouz’s detailed descriptions of life in the house and on the blocks surrounding it in Cairo in the 1920s are so luridly painted I have to believe that his family descriptions must be equally accurate. Written in 1965 before political correctness might have softened his writing, the book works as living history. Despite a somewhat stodgy translation I can see how Mahfouz is destined to become a Nobel laureate. August 2008.