Recognized as a prominent author in his own country of Egypt, Naguib Mahfouz was not widely known in the Western world until receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. After receiving the award, he gained international recognition as one of the more important writers of the twentieth century.
In 1989 ‘‘Half a Day’’ was first published in Arabic as part of a short story collection entitled The False Dawn. In 1991 ''Half a Day'' was included in an English-language collection entitled The Time and the Place.
‘‘Half a Day’’ belongs to the later phase of Mahfouz's literary career, which is characterized by a shift from social realism to a more modern, experimental mode of writing. It is a very short (5-page) allegorical tale in which the narrator begins the day as a young boy entering school for the first time, but leaves the schoolyard an old man whose life has passed in what seemed like only ''half a day.''
The central allegorical implications of this tale are a commentary on the human condition; an entire life span is experienced as only ''half a day'' in the school of life. The story also alludes to the cycle of life, whereby the narrator passes through childhood, middle age and old age in the course of one day.
Critic Rasheed El-Enany, in Naguib Mahfouz, has called ‘‘Half a Day’’ a ‘‘technical tour de force.’’ El-Enany explains that ‘‘brief as it is, the story must count as the author's most powerful rendering of the dilemma of the gulf between observable time and mnemonic time.’’