Naguib Mahfouz Additional Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Until the 1960’s Naguib Mahfouz was considered a talented but uncontroversial author and public servant. He was a member of Egypt’s ruling elite whose initial enthusiasm for Gamal Abdel Nasser’s revolutionary government led to his 1954 appointment as director of censorship in the Egyptian government’s department of art. His reputation as a loyalist was enhanced by his publication of the “Cairo Trilogy”—Palace Walk (1956), Palace of Desire (1957), and Sugar Street (1957). These works (which later brought him a Nobel Prize in Literature) celebrated Egyptian modernization, winning Mahfouz widespread acclaim throughout the Arab world and further promotion in the civil service.

Meanwhile, however, Mahfouz was becoming disillusioned by the failure of Nasser’s government to improve the lives of the common people. In a series of sharply critical works that included The Thief and the Dogs (1961), Conversations on the Nile (1966), and Miramir (1967), he traced the demoralizing effects of authoritarian government and stressed the negative consequences of modernization. In 1967 he overstepped the boundaries of governmental tolerance with Children of Gebelawi, a pessimistic religious allegory satirizing self- proclaimed prophets—and, by implication, Nasser. It was first printed in Lebanon and did not appear in Egypt until 1969, when it was serialized by the Cairo daily newspaper Al...

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Though gregarious and accessible, Naguib Mahfouz has disclosed little about his personal life or background. His father was apparently a shopkeeper (or perhaps a minor civil servant), and Mahfouz was the youngest of seven children. At the time of his birth, the family resided in Gamaliya, an area named after a street traversing an ancient quarter of Cairo. It is this colorful, conservative environment that provides the locale for many of his works. In his preteens, the family moved to the wealthier and more European neighborhood of Abbasiya. His early education was in public schools, and he earned a B.A. in philosophy from Cairo University in 1934. He continued studies there for an M.A. in philosophy but withdrew for undisclosed reasons to take employment in the university’s administration; shortly thereafter, he joined the bureaucracy, first working in the ministry of religious endowments. In 1971, he retired and became director of the government-controlled board of film censorship, while continuing to devote himself to his writing. He married in his early forties and has two daughters.

Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988. After this recognition, he became more widely translated and read outside the Arab world. Within the Arab world, he continues to be controversial, because he advocates peace with Israel. In 1994, he was stabbed in the neck outside his Cairo home, in an assassination attempt by Muslim ultraconservative extremists.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Naguib Mahfouz was the youngest of seven children born to his parents in the old Gamaliya quarter of Cairo, Egypt. When he was nine years old, his family moved to a suburban district called Abbasiya, where he had his first experience with love and where he began to write in imitation of Arabic fiction writers. The 1919 Revolution made a deep impression on the youth. The Revolution of 1952, which brought Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser to power and ended the Egyptian monarchy, proved disillusioning to Mahfouz.

He studied philosophy at Fuad I (now Cairo) University from 1930 to 1934, concentrating on the French philosopher Henri Bergson. After graduating in 1934, he found employment as a civil servant, which he continued until his retirement in 1971. He worked in several different locations, from Cairo University to the Ministry of Religious Endowments, where he was working when, in 1939, he published his first novel, Khufu’s Wisdom, a historical romance based on ancient Egyptian history. He returned to his old neighborhood in 1945, where he worked in the Ghuri library and read the works of Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy, Eugene O’Neill, Gustave Flaubert, and Marcel Proust. In 1950 he began work for the Ministry of National Guidance, held several positions, and at last became adviser to the minister of culture.

Mahfouz did not marry until 1954, when he was forty-three. Shortly after his marriage, he published the first volume of The Trilogy, Palace Walk, in 1956. In 1959, his novel Children of the Alley was serialized in the national newspaper Al-Ahram. It garnered severe criticism from religious fundamentalists. Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman called for the death of the author. Mahfouz was stabbed in the neck outside his house by an extremist on October 14, 1994, when he was eighty-two years old. The wound disrupted Mahfouz’s writing career, but the following year he published his memoir Echoes of an Autobiography, causing yet another uproar in Egypt because of his criticism of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

On December 10, 1997, Mahfouz represented the Egyptian government at a ceremony on the West Bank of the Nile, where he expressed the nation’s sorrow and sympathy for the victims of the Luxor terrorist attack on tourists shortly before. In 1999, after prolonged and intensive physiotherapy, Mahfouz resumed writing; he died in Cairo on August 30, 2006.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

No authoritative biography has been written about Naguib Mahfouz (MAHK-fewz). Egyptian culture respects privacy. The celebrated writer, though accessible, assumed an impersonal role. After accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988, Mahfouz offered only glimpses of his experiences.

Mahfouz was born on December 11, 1911, in Gamaliya, a middle-class quarter of Cairo. His grandparents were merchants; his father was a government clerk. When he was six years old, his father became business manager for a copper merchant, and the family moved to a fashionable suburb of Cairo.

The youngest of seven children (four girls and three boys), who was born ten years after the next-youngest child, he developed a close...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Naguib Mahfouz was a masterful storyteller. He used his literature to comment on social injustices and current events. His fiction projected a human dimension to history by showing how government decisions affect the people. In depicting alienated people confronted with existential problems, the Nobel laureate transcended the boundaries of his country and expressed issues of universal concern.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Naguib Mahfouz (mahkh-FEWS) was the perfecter of the novel in Arabic literature and was its first Nobel laureate. The youngest of seven children, Mahfouz was born in the Gamaliya district of Cairo, the hub of Islamic activism. His father was a minor civil servant; his mother, a homemaker. As a boy, Mahfouz was interested in science; he even considered studying to become a doctor or an engineer. However, during his senior year, science gave way to philosophy, the only subject he thought would help him “unravel the mysteries of existence.” After getting his B.A. in philosophy in 1934 from King Fuad I (now Cairo) University, Mahfouz immediately entered an M.A. program. Two years into the program, however, his interest shifted to...

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(Short Stories for Students)

In 1911 Mahfouz was born in Cairo, Egypt, the youngest of seven children in a lower middle-class family. His father was a strict Muslim and...

(The entire section is 432 words.)