Saturday, June 21, 2008
Despite winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, I had never heard of the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006) until earlier this year, when Jeffrey Ford praised his The Seventh Heaven on his blog. I regret that I came late to the party, but after investigating, buying, and reading of two of Mahfouz's more "speculative" story collections, Voices from the Other World: Ancient Egyptian Tales and the afore-mentioned The Seventh Heaven, I certainly shall be seeking out more of his writings in the near future.
In these two collections, Mahfouz's writing is clear, concise, and very moving. Devoutly spiritual, Mahfouz's concerns for a universal brotherhood (influenced by the 1919 Egyptian Revolution, from what I understand) did not always sit well with more fundamentalist Muslims. There were numerous death threats after Mahfouz's rather controversial and outspoken support of the 1978 Camp David Accords where Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty. In addition, in 1989, he faced even further threats after he voiced his disapproval of the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie for the writing of The Satanic Verses (despite agreeing that Rushdie's book was an "insult" to Islam). In 1994, he was nearly assassinated when an assailant managed to break through the security around Mahfouz and stab him in the neck; he was left with permanent nerve damage and barely could write.
Learning this, after reading the titular "The Seventh Heaven," makes me want to read even more of Mahfouz's works. While I plan on writing at least a brief review of that collection in the near future, suffice to say for now that it is a novella that will linger in my thoughts for a while, as it contains a very strong moral (and sympathetic) message for those who are willing to condemn but yet fail to seek the good in life. Hopefully, others reading this will be encouraged to read Mahfouz's works. One certainly could do much, much worse than to read this fine author.