Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad is a middle-class merchant who hypocritically makes his family adhere to the strictest interpretations of the Qur՚n, keeping his wife and two daughters cloistered and his sons harshly disciplined. For his own delight, he partakes of the sexual, musical, and culinary pleasures of Cairo—singing, dancing, drinking, and cavorting with his friends until late at night.
Ahmad’s son Yasin, from an embarrassing previous marriage, is physically and morally a replica of his father, a youth who had discovered his father’s licentious behavior through a courtesan he visits. A younger son, Fahmy, is attracted to the neighbor’s daughter, Maryam, whom he glimpses from their closely placed rooftops. At the same time, however, Fahmy is repulsed at the idea that she might be purposely and immodestly showing herself to him. In the meantime, Ahmad has been avidly courting Maryam’s mother as she shops in his store.
Ahmad’s wife, Amina, lives a life of solitude and austerity. She is representative of Muslim wives in Egypt in 1917, shut in behind household walls. Still, she manages to find some pleasure in her daily life: the morning baking of bread, the coffee-hour conversations with her children, the childish conflicts among the siblings as they joke and tease and share experiences, the unspoken but shared fears of Ahmad and his crushing righteousness, the boys’ desire to escape outside the home, and the girls’ longing for marriage.
Amina is a good wife and a good mother, yet her religious piety creates trouble in her life. One day, she leaves the house, convinced by her children to do so, after Ahmad travels on business to Port Said. She leaves the house without permission so that she can pray at the Sayyidna al-Husayn mosque, a holy place she has longed to see. Overcome by...
(The entire section is 750 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Family conflicts parallel political turmoil in Palace Walk, which covers the period between November 10, 1917 and April 8, 1919. Great Britain opposed, at that time, Egypt’s request for independence. The novel focuses on the patriarch, Al-Sayyid (the master) Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, a middle-aged merchant. In his comfortable home at Bayna al-qasrayn, the martinet imposes strict standards of behavior on his family, upholding traditional values, which are undergoing change. Al-Sayyid’s personality, however, has other facets. In his house, he forbids music, considered unreligious, but he is an expert on music. His new mistress is a singer. One son, Yasin, learns of Al-Sayyid’s philandering and is shocked to witness his father’s gaiety and singing. At the end of the novel, Al-Sayyid is shocked to learn that another son, Kamal, has inherited his fine voice.
Al-Sayyid married his wife, Amina, daughter of a sheikh, when she was thirteen. He trained her to submit to his rule, for he had failed to do so with his first wife, Yasin’s free-spirited mother. Grateful to be Al-Sayyid’s only wife, Amina considers welcoming him home at midnight her duty. She nevertheless resents his spending evenings out and suspects that he lives a different life with his friends.
Mahfouz, examining the rights of women, begins the novel from Amina’s point of view. Her tasks—caring for five children and running the household with the help of a maid and two...
(The entire section is 534 words.)
Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Dyer, Richard. “Timeless Rhythms of an Egyptian Family.” Boston Globe, February 28, 1990, p. 43. A brief but insightful introduction to the novel, providing background on the author’s preparation to produce the book, the difficulty of the translator to accurately render classical Arabic, and an overall view of the movement of the novel. Finds Mahfouz effectively capturing a society and a way of thinking.
El-Enany, Rasheed. Review of Palace Walk, by Naguib Mahfouz. Third World Quarterly, January, 1990. El-Enany contrasts the stilted, dated English of the translation of Palace Walk with the modern, spirited diction of the Arabic text.
Kilpatrick, Hilary. The Modern Egyptian Novel: A Study in Social Criticism. London: Ithaca Press, 1974. Examines Mahfouz’s novels in the context of contemporary Egyptian fiction. Part of St. Antony’s Middle East series.
Milson, Menahem. Najib Mahfuz: The Novelist-Philosopher of Cairo. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. A good introductory work for the beginning student of Mahfouz, offering insight into the author’s work and life.
Moussa-Mahmoud, Fatma. “Depth of Vision: The Fiction of Naguib Mahfouz.” Third World Quarterly 11 (April, 1989): 154-166. Presents a first-rate, comprehensive study of Mahfouz’s life and work.
Najjar, Fauzi M. “Islamic Fundamentalism and the Intellectuals: The Case of Naguib Mahfouz.” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 25 (May, 1998): 139-168. A discussion of the confusion in the Muslim world of literature and theology, a view that led to Mahfouz’s stabbing. His novels, in contrast to this assumption, deal with questions of social justice, abuses of power, and the exploitation of the weak by the strong, all themes in Palace Walk as well.
Stock, Raymond. “Naguib Mahfouz Dreams—and Departs.” Southwest Review 92, no. 2 (2007): 172-179. Traces how Mahfouz’s dreams blend realism and surrealism as a storytelling technique.