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“Children of Gebelawi” is not only one of Mahfuz’s most beautiful books, but it is also a wonderful metaphor of monotheism and of all humanity
Children of Gebelawi
Children of Gebelawi is a metaphor singularly permeated with realism, in which the often crude representation of environments and situations becomes a symbol of the world, of humanity. The “children”, the sons of Ghabàlawi, are the protagonists of an existential itinerary that reflects the stages of the Koranic revelation from Adam to Moses, from Jesus to Muhammad, up to the current crisis of values, represented by the figure of the modern scientist, son of “death of God” theory. Mahfuz’s style, “… rich in nuances, now realistic for clarity of views, now evocatively ambiguous” (from the motivation of the Nobel Prize), is clearly proposed in this fundamental novel in the vast production of a writer who loves to make to the oral tradition of the popular narrators of Cairo, but which also includes the most up-to-date results of world fiction.
History of the faith
The novel is clearly one of the best written by Mahfuz who here manages to brilliantly combine faith and story in a text that, through a wise use of metaphors, tells the story of monotheism and humanity. In this book God is called Gebelawi and he is none other than the founder of the city, the first to take it away from the desert and build a heavenly garden for it. The rest of the events start from this important pivotal assumption, going to tell the stories of: Idris (Shaytan, the Devil), Adham and Omayma (Adam and Eve), Kadri and Hammam (Cain and Abel), Ghabal (Moses), Rifaa (Jesus), Kassem (Muhammad) and finally Arafa (Science).
This continuous alternation of epicness and common life means that every situation can be in its deepest and absolute depth, giving us a way to understand a little better the meaning of these stories, often repeated so mechanically as to lose the purest and most profound sense. In “Children of Gebelawi “, to say, the story of Cain and Abel is something absolutely terrible and devastating, which cannot fail to make the most sensitive readers feel strong and varied emotions. The same thing, however, must also be said of the prophet Muhammad, shown here in his most incredible purity and desire for justice, and of all the other figures, different characters of the same great history. It is also very interesting how the figure of Jesus is treated, which is seen here under the eyes of an Egyptian Muslim like Mahfuz.
The good, believing but unfortunate Superman
The novel, however, does not end with the Seal of the Prophets, but continues with Arafa, the incarnation of Science (and of Nietzsche’s Superman). The latter is the only truly unpublished character in history, as well as a determining figure for all humanity, as it will be because of him that Gebalawi / God will die. In fact, he will be able to enter the Divine House and take the sacred Book that contains everything but, in escaping, he will kill a servant of the master of the house, who will die soon after from pain.
The particularities of this “Superman“, which make him completely different from any other literary character, are two: he is a believer and he loves humanity. He is the cause of God’s death, but he himself is a believer and loves the Creator madly, moreover his figure is more akin to that of Prometheus, who tries to steal fire for humanity, rather than that of Adam himself, who instead acts out of his and his wife’s curiosity. Furthermore, upon his death, Arafa will be considered in the same way as the previous prophets, a character sent by the Divine to chase the unjust powerful from their throne, a pity that a little more unfortunate than his predecessors. Mahfuz’snovel is a must-have text without ifs and buts, which will give you a new point of view to observe these ancient stories of humanity.
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