Naguib Mahfouz

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Compare the theme of revolution in Naguib Mahfouz's Adrift on the Nile and Palace Walk.

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Palace Walk takes place in Cairo beginning in 1917, when the British occupied Egypt during World War I. While most of the characters are disturbed by having foreign (in this case, Australian) soldiers patrolling their streets, few take overt action in opposition to British rule. After the war ends, one of the young men takes a more active role. The author depicts Fahmy as passively supporting the opposition rather than taking up arms; his death makes it an open question whether he might subsequently have escalated to violence. As the exiled Sa’d Zaghlul returns, the British clash with celebrants in the streets, killing Fahmy. His death at British hands is elevated by the rebels to political martyrdom.

In contrast, the politically and emotionally detached middle-class protagonists of Adrift on the Nile evince no revolutionary leanings. In apathetic, kif-fueled reveries during Nile River houseboat parties, they wave away all troublesome thoughts of conflict, much less war. They are interrupted by the presence of a young journalist, who seems, at first, idealistic and then opportunistic (as she secretly writes about them). Back on the streets, a joyride goes horribly wrong, leaving the survivors to pick up the pieces. This novel–set in the 1960s, fifty years later than Palace Walk—thus offers a critique of post-revolutionary Egyptian society that suggests the absence of viable political solutions.

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