Since before “The Trilogy,” that is, since the “New Cairo” (1945), “Khan al-Khalili” (1946), “Ziqaq al-Midaqq” (Midaq Alley) (1947) and others, Naguib Mahfouz has been the most influential fiction author that I have read. I was astonished by the questions he raised and the possibilities he presented in his characters and in the profound events they lived through. I was also amazed at the changes in his characters’ worlds throughout the different periods of his novelistic journey.
Essays and Features
Ghada Samman is a prolific writer who has produced over 40 works in a variety of genres, including journalism, poetry, short stories, and the novel. Outspoken, innovative, and provocative, Samman is a highly respected if sometimes controversial writer in the Arab world who is becoming increasingly well known internationally; several of her works have been translated from Arabic into languages such as English, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Polish, German, Japanese, and Farsi.
Journalists who cover war are often accused of being “adrenaline junkies,” parachuting into conflict zones as they chase their next high, bouncing from one global hot spot to another. Depicted as heartless voyeurs, they aim their cold zoom lenses at the faces of suffering humanity. Their saving grace is that they alone can capture images capable of shocking an indifferent world into responding.
In 1862, five Russian musicians in St. Petersburg (Borodin, Cui, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov) formed the “Gang of Five,” a group whose aim was to create authentically Russian music as opposed to the prevalent Western style championed by Tchaikovsky. A century later, five Lebanese musicians modeled themselves after the Russian group and formed their own “Gang of Five” with the mission of creating authentically Lebanese music.
Heads nodded in agreement, but the mood was somber. Halim Barakat had just kicked off a two-day conference on the Arab novel by noting that more than 100 Arabic novels had been translated into English. Alas, he said, they were seldom reviewed in literary journals, nor could you easily find them in your neighborhood bookstore.
In 1959, Naguib Mahfouz published his controversial novel " Awlad Haratina " (Children of Our Alley) on the pages of the Egyptian daily paper Al Ahram. This work represented a clear departure from the historical and realistic modes that dominated Mahfouz's earlier work until the completion of his "Trilogy" on the eve of the 1952 revolution in Egypt . " Awlad Haratina " came after seven years of literary silence most uncharacteristic of the disciplined and prolific Mahfouz.
Even in his early writings, which were mainly poems, Issam Mahfouz used to “create a sublime and penetrating theater of dialogue,” says Lebanese poet Shawqi abi-Shaqra about his friend. It is a disservice to Mahfouz to sum up his contributions in generalities. This creative artist made his unique and visionary contributions in different fields: first, in modern poetry; then in theater, where his basic and most notable contributions lie, as well as in literary studies, criticism, and research.
The immediate reaction to awarding Naguib Mahfouz the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988 was mixed among some Arab intellectuals. Some attribute this to the tarnished image of the Nobel Committee, which earlier awarded the Peace Price to the Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin and to the Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat for their role in concluding the first peace treaty between the Jewish state and an Arab country. Neither winner enjoyed much sympathy among Arab intellectuals.
Egypt’s cultural circles have recently celebrated one of the most important writers in the Arab world, Edwar al-Kharrat, who turned 70 earlier this year. This celebration coincided with the publication of al-Kharrat’s latest book, entitled “Muhajamat al-Mustaheel” (Attacking the Impossible), and with his winning the prize of Sultan Al-Oweiss.
With this double issue (nos. 50/51) Al Jadid magazine enters its 11th year. During the past decade, we have rarely talked about ourselves, our pleasures or pains, neither self-congratulatory nor inviting pity. This has included not talking about our financial difficulties as well as the acclaim Al Jadid has received, including letters of support, articles and reviews written about Al Jadid in national and international magazines and newspapers, as well as professional, academic and mainstream books from major publishers.