This article is also available in: Italiano
The lives in the Gamaleya neighborhood observed by a young Nagib Mahfuz. “Stories from Our Neighbourhood” is one of the classics of the nobel prize-winning author for literature, the life of Cairo’s most iconic neighborhood as a metaphor for the world.
Stories from Our Neighbourhood
The chronicles of a neighborhood told through the everyday life of its inhabitants: the reality and fantasies of a world in which the arcana of oriental tradition and the subtle charm of European civilization interpenetrate. Reality as a representation of the events that mark the life of the district (the sounds and smells of the little streets, the views captured from the windows, the objects, the rumors and the feelings), and fantasy as an instrument of knowledge of the forms and essences that compose infinitely repeat, the cycle of birth, life and death.
In this book Nagib Mahfuz shows us an Egypt of the past, between a much desired freedom and progress, even social, that tends to arrive. The country of the novel is still prey to futuwwat and ancient popular traditions, very far from the one it will become, later, with the arrival of Nasser. It is in the Gamaleya neighborhood that Mahfuz sets his stories, a place so iconic and representative of the author and an inseparable union of the whole of Cairo. In fact, the nobel prize has lived there all his life and is able to extrapolate a detailed portrait with attention to the smallest details, so as to become representative of the entire Egypt of the time.
The novel is an anthology of 78 short stories, in which the only constants are the neighborhood itself and the narrator. The latter will be our point of view on the neighborhood and its inhabitants, showing us their stories and, above all, its weaknesses.
As I will also do then ‘Ala al Aswani in his “The Papers of Essam Abdel Aaty”, Nagib Mahfuz shows us what a sort of” Egyptian leitmotiv “,” to change in order not to change “. Many times in fact, the stories of the various characters seem destined by events but always end up returning, and inevitably, to the starting point. Whether the protagonist is the neighborhood itself or the inhabitants themselves, in fact, the result does not change. Even the futuwwat, the “neighborhood bosses” appear to us as the antechamber of what will later become the policemen themselves, the new Egyptian lords in the novels of the post Mahfuz generation.
An Egypt that no longer exists
“Stories from Our Neighbourhood” is one of those books that serve to know the past and better understand the present, a fresco of what Egypt was in the early 1900s, a way to better understand the revolution that will involve it shortly after. Mahfuz with this book shows us a reality that no longer exists, made up of gossip and local realities, Egypt before Umm Kulthum.
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