Critical Evaluation

In 1988, Naguib Mahfouz became the first Arabic-language author to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, for with his “works rich in nuance—now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous—he has formed an Arabic narrative that applies to all mankind.”

Mahfouz has been a prolific writer. In addition, he worked for thirty-five years as a full-time civil servant in numerous government ministries until his retirement in 1971. For many years, he also regularly contributed articles on a host of topics to Cairo newspapers.

A man of habit and great discipline, Mahfouz is seen as Egypt’s finest writer, and he is credited with making the novel and short story popular in Arabic literature, where poetry was the preferred genre for centuries. His work has been favorably compared to such Western European novelists as Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, Thomas Mann, and John Galsworthy. He became well-known in his native Egypt with the Cairo trilogy (1956-1957), which traces the lives of three generations of a middle-class family between 1917 and 1944, a period of convulsive change in Egyptian society.

Mahfouz established his reputation in the English-speaking world with the translation of Midaq Alley, whose characters resemble people he met in the coffeehouses he frequented in the neighborhood of his birth. Consequently, his novels portray a realistic world; at the same time, the novels represent a universal social landscape. The novel is divided into thirty-five chapters and includes more than fifty named characters, of which a dozen play major roles. The real...

(The entire section is 657 words.)