Cairo is burning.
Autumn Quail promises to be a novel of Egypt’s entropy as independence and fledgling self-governance struggle to reconcile the past with the future. It shows the fall from power and the post-revolution purge of government ministers and those who are connected with them.
Autumn Quail reveals the honesty that, sometimes, underlies corruption. It also reveals an optimism for the coexistence of old and new ideals. It is Mahfouz writing from the perspective of Egypt’s old regime – the constitutional monarchy and the liberalism of the then-dominant Wafd political party – as the 1952 revolution unfolds.
Mahfouz has done this more thoroughly in many of his other writings, and Autumn Quail is one of his weaker novels. Somewhere between short story and novel, Autumn Quail, for the purpose Mahfouz gave it, should have been a much shorter work.
I’m shooting to have the review up by mid-week for Autumn Quail and am working on a series recap to come shortly afterward that compares the three novellas. Mahfouz was a tremendous writer and keenly aware of the lifeblood of Cairo’s every corner. He did win the Nobel prize for literature.
My introduction to Mahfouz was through his Cairo trilogy a few years ago. The way he wrote about the British occupation and then of Egyptian independence through one merchant-class family showed all the glamour, richness, decrepitude, sadness; showed all…everything…that was alive in Cairo through the first half of the twentieth century. He gave this same attention to his writings of the ’52 revolution that I am now reviewing.
♠ Also reading…
I’m halfway through Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I’d been meaning to get to his work for a while and started in on this one per the recommendation of books n’at.
I might also pick up Julius Caesar once I finish Mahfouz – we’re near the storied Ides of March after all, and I haven’t read Shakespeare in years – but a couple of other books are also pulling me into their orbits. Read on.
Said Mahran is a fugitive once more. Imprisoned for four years on counts of burglary, he pursues vengeance for the perceived treacheries of his erstwhile friends and ex-wife at the same time that he seeks the affection of his 4-year-old daughter who never knew him.
Already new loves blossom and old thieves live ensconced in palatial villas, denouncing their old trade without irony. Said Mahran remains unchanged, though he nurses an embittered heart.
The Beggar is about a man who sees his passions and ideas dragged through the streets and spit upon to end up, once institutionalized in the full regalia of a new government, a dastardly version of what they should have been.
It is a novel, therefore, of the disappointment implicit in Egyptian politics.