Despite his lifelong dedication to the short story, Naguib Mahfouz’s reputation stems chiefly from the many novels he has produced over his lengthy career, notably the Cairo Trilogy (1956-1957). He has also been an important influence in the Egyptian cinema, having written the screenplays for many films drawn from Arabic novels, including some of his own works. He is the author of several short plays, some of which have been performed on stage. He has also written the nonfiction work Asda’ al-sirah al-dhatiyah (1995; Echoes of an Autobiography, 1997).
By the late 1950’s, Naguib Mahfouz had earned recognition throughout the Arab world as one of the most sophisticated authors of the Arabic novel. While earlier Arab novelists had initiated this literary form, Mahfouz demonstrated a gift for presenting characters and situations that intimately captured the spirit of his native Egypt. His generally tragic works often center their interest on individuals in crisis and examine issues relating to class, ambition, and morality in government. They illustrate the personal faults or the incidents of fate that can bring tragedy to humankind; though didactic, they are usually nonjudgmental. Contemporary political and social issues, both of the Middle East and of the world at large, are central to his writing. The recipient of many honorary doctoral degrees from foreign universities and prestigious awards from the Egyptian government, Mahfouz received in 1988 the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Naguib Mahfouz (mahkh-FEWS) is known primarily for his long fiction, although he wrote many short stories and some one-act plays, five of which he published with collections of his short stories in Taḥta al-miẓalla (1969). His first publication was a translation into Arabic from English, Miṣr al-Qadmah (1931), of James Baikie’s Ancient Egypt (1912). Mahfouz also published numerous pieces of popular journalism and his memoirs, including Asda’ al-sirah al-dhatiyah in 1995 (Echoes of an Autobiography, 1997).
In 1988, Naguib Mahfouz became the first Arab author to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature; he was cited by the Swedish Academy for works that are richly realistic. In his Nobel speech, he described himself as the son of two civilizations: Pharaonic and Islamic. He expressed his passion to transcend traditional barriers for a universal vision informed by a heightened sense of responsibility toward humanity. In 1989, Mahfouz received the Presidential Medal from the American University in Cairo. He was elected an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1992, and he was presented with an honorary doctorate by the American University in Cairo in 1995, which established the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature as an annual award for outstanding contributions to Arabic writing.
Mahfouz advanced the art of long fiction in Arabic through major works that are varied in their experimental approaches tonarrative, and he captured the attention of many for his courageous defense of freedom from religious persecution. He brought to Arabic writing a new dedication to artistic integrity in a form that is recent and rare.
Abadir, Akef, and Roger Allen. Introduction to God’s World. Minneapolis, Minn.: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1973. This introduction by Abadir and Allen is followed by twenty translations selected from Mahfouz’s short stories.
Beard, Michael, and Adnan Haydar, eds. Naguib Mahfouz: From Regional Fame to Global Recognition. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1993. A collection of essays derived from a symposium recognizing Naguib Mahfouz’s 1988 Nobel Prize. Includes essays on Mahfouz’s image of woman, on dreams, on the sublime, and on his critics. An essay on existential themes focuses specifically on Mahfouz’s short stories.
Coetzee, J. M. “Fabulous Fabulist.” The New York Review of Books 41 (September 22, 1994): 30-33. Argues that it was Mahfouz’s example that spurred interest in the novel in Arabic in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Briefly discusses Mahfouz’s fiction, describing the world of Cairo as he depicts it.
El-Enany, Rasheed. Naguib Mahfouz: The Pursuit of Meaning. London: Routledge, 1993. Groups Mahfouz’s novels according to their treatment of history, idealism, and episodic structural designs, with a detailed analysis of Respected Sir and one chapter dealing with short stories and plays.
Gordon, Haim. Naguib Mahfouz’s Egypt: Existential Themes in His Writings. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990. Examines the impressionistic view of Egyptian society in the writings of Mahfouz.