Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is an involved and detailed family drama by one of Egypt's most renowned writers. It follows the fortunes of the Al Jawad family, whose patriarch runs a large shop that makes them prosperous but not rich. The setting is 1919, when the streets of Cairo are convulsed with independence demonstrations that are often fired upon by British troops.
The father, Al-Sayyid Ahmad, is an old-time patriarch in all the worst senses of the word--he keeps his wife and daughters cloistered in the home, and is domineering and sarcastic to his three sons. In the meantime, he goes out and drinks and sleeps around every night. Mahfouz is a good enough writer that he makes Al-Sayyid Ahmad strangely compelling. I hated the bastard, but just had to find out what he was going to do next.
Mahfouz gives the life of the family and its slow progression in intimate detail. This is a long novel, and work and other reading made me put it down from time to time, but the characters were so well drawn I could easily slip back into the story as if it was about some old acquaintances. It was fascinating to watch as the events of the day slowly and unstoppably pushed into this isolated family's life despite the best efforts of Al-Sayyid Ahmad. This is a book about a nation as much as it is about a family, and well worth picking up if you want to know more about Egyptian history and culture. Some people might find it a slow read; I found it more of a sedate one.
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