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Oh, the banality of human beliefs! Some years back, when I introduced Mahfouz to my eager son, who quickly made him one of his favourite authors, I told him that this parable on the development of human beliefs, societies and rituals is a quite simple, yet true tale After he had read it, he agreed, and claimed other works by this versatile author his preferred reading.Thinking back though, I am convinced that it is precisely the banality of the cyclical need for revolution, followed by the institution of new authorities and then a slow development of authoritarian attitudes in the new leadership that makes it a timeless reading experience There are no complicated theological or sociological mysteries to be found anywhere simply because we are quite simpleminded as a species We want to worship, and we want to enrich ourselves, we want to be feeling superior and we want to dictate our worldview to others We want to be famous and revered and to leave a legacy We want to get rid of rivals and overthrow whatever order is against our personal prosperity and success That's all there is to religion or ideology The house of the king is empty, no matter what we choose to call him and how we choose to show our respect and allegiance.The power lies in the elusive character of the leader The less he (for it is a patriarch to be sure!) is defined, thefollowers can identify with him Beware of intellectually challenging statements, if you want to rule the world Sadly, I think I have grown to believe this simple tale out of experience, as my intellectual idealism of earlier years turned out to be a quite naive illusion We are not capable of anythingdemanding than Mahfouz' parable And we are willing to kill and steal and lie to protect our own specific brand of banality.So I am giving it five stars for seeing where we have always been heading: from one silly delusion to the next! I have read quite a few novels by Naguib Mahfouz and found this one weaker than what I have read before The premise is a good one: to cover the spiritual history of mankind in terms of our efforts to improve our existence and society.Using the framework of key historical moments, he offers tales concerning the inhabitants dwelling in an Egyptian alley All these people have a common ancestor and indeed exist to greater or lesser degrees by the whim of their patriarch In each period covered throughout the novel, some sort of exceptional, always male, person arises from the masses of people and attempts to resolve the conflicts and sufferings of his fellows.One of these is similar to Adam from Genesis Another pair of brothers are reminiscent of Cain and Abel, one is Christlike Each of them has a special connection with Gabalawi, the ancestor, who dwells in a big manor house and owns all the area around and including the alley These potential heroes or saviors feel they are fulfilling the wishes of the old man, who seems to live forever They often better conditions but eventually die, after which the population of the alley regresses to their old ways Greed, oppression, envy, competitiveness, and other ills are never conquered.The means applied by each of these reformers vary, from nonviolence to the use of force, from enlightenment to magic I was kept reading because Mafouz seemed to be following a progression of spiritual evolution and because each section has intriguing plots, counter plots, and relationships.In the end however, progress has not been made Man is incorrigible and carries on telling the old tales while hoping that magically all will come right if only one is patient I was left confused Is Mahfouz saying that hope is the key? Or is he mocking our irresponsible habit of waiting for some god or hero to solve our problems for us? Our plague is forgetfulness.To think that an attempt was made on Naguib Mahfouz's life for writing this book is beyond ridiculous It shows that those who want to shut up books aren't really bothered with actual offensive material but react to perceptions of insult to their ideology in a world in which they are becoming increasingly outdated and irrelevant, hence all this mindless sensitiveness.As to the novel itself, I had a hard time with its twodimensional characterisations and insufficient conflict We have a brutal world headed by Gebelaawi, the timeless archancestor of the human settlement who fathered and brought into world various tribes, and who lives in seclusion in the grand house shielded by everyone and everything, ruling his estate the world in absentia God in other words, or the Abrahamic idea of it The story revolves around the struggle between his succeeding generations modeled on various BiblioQuranic figures such as Abel and Cain, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, who were chosen to be sent to their tribes when the human condition became intolerably dark Mahfouz leaves us in ambiguity as to whether the prophets were actually chosen by Gebelaawi or whether they came to believe in their station by some extraordinary natural agency that set them apart from the sheeple.The same story repeats itself like a broken record Every reform movement descends into the chaos as soon as the leader of the tribe turns his back on the temporary abode that is the world It is as though Mahfouz is saying that nothing ever changes; things do not get better for ever; evil overpowers good at the first opportunity One prophet comes, fixes things, gives people a simulacrum of justice and happiness, only for them to go back to fighting, killing, pillaging, and the oppression and injustice that comes with the abuse of power Might the implied failure of various leaders have caused offence to the deranged extremists living in a perfect golden age of their imagination? Who knows eh.I mentioned its lack of subtlety above, but I'm tempted to see the narrative voice as imitating the Quranic storytelling told in dry, exhortative, repetitive, fearinducing tones for maximum effect The good and evil are portrayed in absolute terms even though the prophets are brought down from their infallible station in myth to the level of humanity with their personal flaws We do have room to see it as ironical This is a promising idea for a story superimposed on the historicomythical children of Abraham, only if Mahfouz had handled it withtact But there's no mistaking what he's getting at: I myself have seen this wretched state of affairs in our own day a faithful reflection of what people tell us about the past As for the bards, they tell only of the heroic times, avoiding anything that could offend the powerful, singing praisesand celebrating a justice we never enjoy, a mercy we never find, a nobility we never meet with, a restraint we never see and a fairness we never hear of February '16 Initially I was put off by the violence, the foreignness of this novel but I'm very glad I persisted This is a retelling of Biblical and Islamic stories of heroes and villains with the heroes occasionally victorious but the world eventually sinking back into the same mire of brutality and rule of the sword The heroes are not equally or identically heroic, each trying a different way to bring peace and equality to the world None is fully successful It would appear that mankind is still waiting I would imagine that is why Mahfouz had a fatwa declared against him after writing this book.I'm looking forward to the Constant Reader discussion to come. روايةيجلس الجبلاوي في بيته الكبير المحاط بالحدائق واﻷسوار العالية ومن حوله أحفاده الذين يتنازعون للحصول على وقفه، ويقوم الفتوات بابعاد هؤلاء عن جنته اﻷرضية، حيث استقرت ذريته خارج أسوار البيت الكبير، وبالرغم من فقرهم الا انهم لم يكفو عن الدعاء بأن ينزل الجبلاوي اليهم ويترك عزلته ويوزع تركته ويخلصهم من بطش الفتوات فيسود الخير على الجميع، ويظهر في كل جيل هذا المخلص والذي يتعلق به الناس وينتفضو معه ضد الفتوات، ولكن الجشع والجهل يرجعهم في اخر المطاف الى ما كانت عليه الاوضاع ويبقى الفقر والمعاناة مصيرهم الذي لا مفر منهيصف محفوظ في هذه الرواية الرائعة القهر وشوق الناس إلى الخلاص من أنفسهم، وكيف ان المبادئ يمكن أن تتغير بتأرجح النفوس البشرية، وكيف ان الاعمال الخيرة تقع تحت يد الفساد والمفسدينتعد هذه الرواية من أشهر روايات اﻷديب الراحل وأكثرها إشكالية وقد نوهت اﻷكاديمية السويدية بها عندما منحت نجيب محفوظ جائزة نوبل للآداب Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, all portrayed as characters in an alley, as Children of their founder Gebelaawi Fascinating, with some slow parts But fascinating. آفة حارتِنا النسيان.Our alley is plagued with forgetfulness.Forgetfulness, what a plague..And because of this forgetfulness, the same story is repeated over and over again, with different characters and at different times.We are before an extraordinary novel Extraordinary in every sense of word It is a novel that was about to bring its author to his doom after being misinterpreted by a group of fascist Islamists who took it for being blasphemous.Let's admit, however, that it's not a novel that is easy to decipher.In terms of language, this is by far the most beautiful and artistic piece of art I've ever read Each word is carefully chosen to fit in its place in order to create a beautiful painting of the alley We're almost able to live inside this alley for a while, with fear striking our hearts at the sight of the bullies and bloodshed, the smoke of hash penetrating our noses, the rebab songs of the late heroes reaching our ears and hopes for a peaceful and just alley where love and peace prevail and injustice comes to an end fill our heads and chests.Mahfouz's novel is timeless inthan one sense It's timeless as it is really set outside any identifiable time frame We're completely at a loss when it comes to identifying which era this novel could be possibly set in It's an Egyptian (probably) alley, and that's it Is this timelessness significant in itself?There is a fact that cannot be ignored here The resemblance between the subsequent stories, which represent 5 subsequent generations, to the stories of creation, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad is undeniable and is unmistakably visible, and this is what led extremists to attempt an assassination of Mahfouz However, even though the book is symbolic, the stories could by no means be representative of God and his 3 messengers (peace be upon them all) There is a frequent mention of and a clear reference to God Almighty by the different characters So, if the three men, Gabal, Rifa'a and Kassem do have similar stories to those of the 3 messengers, one possible interpretation of this is that maybe such stories happen every day Maybe in every age and in every spot on earth there is one story about injustice in which the powerful treat the weak unfairly and steal their money in order to satisfy their insatiable greed, being protected by their power and ruthlessness Amidst this darkness of lost hopes and cries of humiliation and agony, there could appear a person who would call for justice, and then they become the only ray of hope coloring the sky which has only known the color of blood It's only through supporting such heroes and uniting against injustice that people could seek a decent life, a life that is only full of flowers and songs like the one Adham dreams of in Gabalawy's house, a life like the one Adam was once given before Satan was able to deceive him and cause him to be doomed till the end of life.The fifth part of the book is slightly different This part is about Arafa, the very name being derived from the Arabic word for knowledge This is when people start seeking Arafa's magical abilities, rather than Gabalawy's teachings, to protect them from the alley's governor and his bullies As Mahfouz himself says, Arafa symbolizes knowledge and science, and with the final disappearance of Gabalawy (who is a symbol for religion) and the rise of Arafa, a question arises about the sufficiency of science to live and combat injustice And with this question comes the eternal conflict between science and religion With Arafa's collapse, people start questioning science and seek returning to Gabalawy and his teachings They no longer know what they need to live in peace and with dignity, and this is one dilemma in real life which Mahfouz skillfully transfers on paper.It's an exceptional novel about the eternal fact of the eternal conflict between good and evil. This is an allegory on the history of prophets of Abraham religions – Adam, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad represented as far as humanly possible Gebelaawi, the creator of an alley, favored his son (from a servant) Adham over his other sons of higher birth including Idris (Iblis) Idris walked out on his father and later tricked Adham into the temptation of knowing G’s will causing G to throw him out “Your mind stays in the place it's been thrown out of.” Adham lived on hoping to get back the comfortable life that was once his, scorning at life to sustain which you have to earn: “Only an animal worries all the time about the next meal “ Adham lived a miserable life – the memory of lost paradise can bringsuffering than residence in hell, he saw one of his sons kill the other However, G promised Adham on later's death bed that his children will get the life he had yawned for.Although G didn’t take Adham’s successors back in his palace, he created a trust for their benefit However, soon trustee (our symbol for powerful) grew corrupt and he kept some gangsters for his protection.The people who were now suffering repeatedly saw hope of redemption first in aggressive Gebel (Moses) who wanted ‘an eye for an eye’ sort of order and saved but only a few, that is, his tribe whom he considered successors of Adham, then in Rifaa (Jesus) – an innocent idiot who thought power was useless and love was the real thing; and then in Qasim (Muhammad) – who tried balancing previous ideas ‘Force when necessary and love always’ All of them seemed to react to the previous one(s) and all of them won victories to different extents However soon, work done by each of them was undone and same old conditions returned – as if creating room for the next prophet Nothing from them remained behind except their names which people loved associating themselves with and their stories “our plague is forgetfulness.”“No one who looks at the state of our Alley will believe what the rebec tells in the cafes Who was Gebel? Who was Rifaa? Who was Qaasim? Where, outside the world of the cafe, are the good works that are referred to? All that the eye sees is an alley sunk in darkness and bards singing of dreams.” Just as Orwell showed meaninglessness of political revolutions, NF shows meaninglessness of religious ones A revolution may move people but it won’t change them; like an autumn leaf blown by winds, we will fell back to their old ways Gebel, Rifaa, and Qaasim were only names songs chanted by drugged bards in the cafes Each faction was proud of its hero, of whom no trace remained, and they quarreled and fought about them Various phrases went around the hashish dens: 'What's the use?' (of the world, not of drugs) or 'It all ends in death; let's die at the hand of God and not under a strong man 's cudgel The best we can do is get drunk or take hashish ' They wailed sad songs about treachery, poverty and degradation, or chanted bawdy ones in the ears of any man or woman who was seeking consolation, however terrible their misfortune At times of particular misery people would say: 'What is written is written Gebel can't help, nor Rifaa, nor Qaasim Our fate flies in this world and dust in the next ' However, hope has a way of finding something to attach itself to Now it attaches itself to magic (science) something which Arafa (the fifth son of Alley) brought with itself Unlike prophets, he neither was thrown out by G (Adham), nor was met by G any time(Gebel)), nor he heard his voices(Rifaa) or saw any of his servants (Qaasim) – notice how G is becoming less and less visible to each new generation.Arafa wants to repeat Adham’s mistakes, he wants to know: “The truth is I want to look at the book that caused Adham to be thrown out, if the stories are true.” Unlike prophets, he doesn’t hope of developing a following Unlike them, his dream is not limited to that of Adham’s: “Imagine it if life was spent in leisure! It's a beautiful dream, but a laughable one, Hanash What would be really beautiful would be to do away with work in order to work miracles.” Innocently the scientist becomes the cause of G.’s death: “Gebelaawi whom it had been easier to kill than to see.”“Now that he's gone, respect is due to the dead man.” However, G was satisfied with Arafa at the time of his death.Innocently, he ends up making the wicked trustee farpowerful who will later turn against him.Still, that fight is not over, G is dead and yet hope didn’t die with him They no longer look towards G’s house and moan his name yet they have found a new hope – in magic ”If we had to choose between Gebelaawi and magic, we would choose magic.” The Irony Now all this may make you believe that the allegory is questioning faith It seems so Geblaawi is the god, right? And he dies, and works of prophets are undone, and only hope is science? There are some other objections as well For example – we can still argue that three prophets (other than Adham) might have lied or had hallucinations; we have nothing but their word to suggest any communication between them and G In one chapter they are seen pondering over the revolution, in next we see them telling others about how they received G’s message Then there is how works of prophets were undone Also, we are being told stories by a successor (firstperson narration) All of them might only be stories.A controversial leader from Egypt said that Rushdi wouldn’t have dared to publish his Satanic Verses If Mahfouz was punished It did earn a ban in Egypt and an attack on author’s life.Now here is God’s truth (intended) – Geblaawi is not supposed to be God According to the author, nothing can represent God and the work is a deeply 'religious' one Then what does Geblaawi actually represent? He represents some people’s idea of god Don’t ask me what it is supposed to mean.If you want to know author’s perspective on things, you must read the Translator’s note (thanks Jibran for suggesting the translation ) One thing that proves Mahfouz was saying the truth and was not merely trying to save his neck from being stabbed again is that God is directly mentioned in the book in people’s prayers and wishes as separate from Gadalaawi – which could be strange if he stood for God It is like Stalin directly mentioned by name in Animal Farm “God 's will be done! After his long life Gebelaawi is dead A nonanthropic God is what Islamic tradition has always advocated for and so you see there was nothing of blasphemy there.NF was revolted after reading Darwin’s work Like Milton’s Paradise Lost, the book was written by an author in an effort to reconcile his religious doubts G B Shaw’s ‘Back to Methuselah’ – a similar work reconciling religion and science partly inspired NF Kazan takis' Christ Recrucified is supposed to be another work that is in some ways similar.And so you see, how different Rushdi and Mahfouz are – want ? Mahfouz put a higher value on peace than freedom of expression and wasn’t in favor of republication of work if it could lead to disturbance A God that has nothing human in him (it?) Personally, I don’t know how a nonanthropic God solves any of the questions raised by Darwinism Moreover, all our knowledge is anthropic A God that has feelings, can laugh or weep, is so farrelatable (and Quran itself gives God anthropic feelings like mercy and kindness to God) There is, for example, an old Hindi song in which a man is questioning God ( exactly, ‘creator of World’) as to why he created the world, people, cultures while secondguessing God’s reasons Here is what he had to ask God about love: “You too must have suffered upon creating heart,Upon creating that storm of love in it,Someone sometime must have lived in your heart tooTears too must have appeared in your eyes Now, this is a god you could relate to Like Nietzsche, I too can’t care about a God who won’t dance More Quotes: “death, which destroys life with fear even before it strikes.”“fear doesn't stop you from dying, but it stops you from living.”“intimate conversation lost all its meaning if it lasted forever”“What need is there for you to talk when you' re always singing?”As long as I can't give back life, I can't claim to have any power. (translated by Philip Stewart) Read By: Robert Blumenfeld Copyright: 1981 Audiobook Copyright: 2006 Genre: Fiction religion Total Duration: 13:23:38(view spoiler)[Book Description: Naguib Mahfouz guides us on a journey through the history of the tumultuous alley belonging to a delightful and sometimes diabolical Egyptian family: the descendants of a man named Gebelawi We accompany them in their struggles to right their wrongs, to eke out a better existence for themselves and their cohorts and we discover a second, hidden, and daring narrative: the spiritual history of humankind From the supreme feudal lord who disowns one son for cruel pride and puts another to the test, to the savior of a succeeding generation who frees his people from bondage, we find the men and women of a modern Cairo neighborhood unwittingly reenacting the lives of their holy ancestors: the children of the alley (hide spoiler)] A masterpiece One of the best books I read in my life I think every Arab should read it. أولاد حارتنا

About the Author: Naguib Mahfouz

نجيب محفوظ) was an Egyptian writer who won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature He published over 50 novels, over 350 short stories, dozens of movie scripts, and five plays over a 70 year career Many of his works have been made into Egyptian and foreign films.

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