A review of

Three Novels of Ancient Egypt

by Naguib Mahfouz

Central question: Is man doomed by fate or by free will?
Format: 632 pp., cloth; Size: 5" x 8"; Price: $26.95; Publisher: Everyman’s Library; Book design: Barbara de Wilde and Carol Devine Carson; Interior design: Jane Holloway; Translated by: Raymond Stock, Anthony Calderbank, and Humphrey Davies; Number of times the author left Egypt between 1939 and 2006: two; Countries visited: Yugoslavia and Yemen; Representative sentence: “Here is the malady: you believe in duty. Truly, you have done injury to no one, yet neither have you ever relinquished your duty. Now, which of the two do you think will be first to be sold?”

In October 1994, six years after he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed in the neck outside his Cairo home. The assailant was carrying out a death sentence pronounced by Umar Abd al-Rahman, a Muslim religious leader who believed that Mahfouz’s novel Awlad Haratina was blasphemous. Mahfouz survived the attack—he died in August 2006, at ninety-four—but his wounds prevented him from holding a pen for the rest of his life. Abd al-Rahman eventually left Egypt for New York, where he helped to plot the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

For the first time, Everyman’s Library has collected Mahfouz’s trilogy of novels about ancient Egypt in one volume. Compared to his better known and dustily realistic Cairo Trilogy, which portrays mid-twentieth-century Cairo in all its menace and squalor, these earlier novels seem grandiose and melodramatic, like a Cecil B. DeMille movie, complete with chariots and a cast of thousands.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Brendan Hughes

Brendan Hughes is an MFA student in nonfiction at Columbia University. He is currently researching an account of the largest art heist in American history.

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