Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Sugar Street, Naguib Mahfouz, Doubleday, 1957 (trans 1992), 308 pp

 The final volume of the Cairo Trilogy was the least interesting for me as a reading experience. It covers the 1930s into the 1950s, following the family from the earlier two volumes. The patriarch and his wife grow old, the sons and daughters move on in their careers as the grandchildren grow up. 

 The issues during this time in Egypt are political as the country attempts to form its own democratic republic while still being ruled by a king who plays around with the English. These factors are complicated by economic issues due to the Great Depression and later World War II. Egypt as a whole is ambivalent towards the Allies during the war due to widespread hatred and distrust of the English. What I found most interesting was the rise of Communism, Socialism and Islamic Fundamentalism amongst the younger generations. But lengthy political discussions between the male characters, Mafouz's way of telling the tale, were too dry for my taste as a reader.

 Mahfouz also has his characters pondering the value of marriage and family versus political and philosophical pursuits. These I think represent the growing pains of a more modern middle class in a country trying so desperately to exist in the 20th century world. The entire trilogy is a masterpiece as it depicts the growth and progression of what was essentially a colonized Islamic nation suffering through upheaval in it social, political, and religious sectors on the way to becoming a modern nation. 

 All three books increased my understanding of the monstrous difficulties being faced by both the United States and Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The entire thing is a process but not a smooth one. The later books of Richard Wright (Black Power, The Color Curtain, White Man Listen) also contributed much to my increasing knowledge. I suppose I could have learned these things through a more careful study of history but, as ususal, it is historical fiction which brings it all alive for me.

(Sugar Street is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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