win prizes
Search our site
Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner Read the opening extract of the brand new Susie Steiner book before its publication on 05/04/2018

Cairo Modern An Arabic Novel by Naguib Mahfouz


Cairo Modern An Arabic Novel by Naguib Mahfouz

The novelist's camera pans from the dome of King Fuad University (now Cairo University) to students streaming out of the campus, focusing on four students in their twenties, each representing a different trend in Egypt in the 1930s. Finally the camera comes to rest on Mahgub Abd al-Da'im. A scamp, he fancies himself a nihilist, a hedonist, an egotist, but his personal vulnerability is soon revealed by a family crisis back home in al-Qanatir, a dusty, provincial town on the Nile that is also a popular destination for Cairene day-trippers. Mahgub, like many characters in works by Naguib Mahfouz, has a hard time finding the correct setting on his ambition gauge. His emotional life also fluctuates between the extremes of a street girl, who makes her living gathering cigarette butts, and his wealthy cousin Tahiya. Since he thinks that virtue is merely a social construct, how far will our would-be nihilist go in trying to fulfill his unbridled ambitions? What if he discovers that high society is more corrupt and cynical than he is? With a wink back at Goethe's Faust and Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews, Mahgub becomes a willing collaborator in his own corruption. Published in Arabic in the 1940s, this cautionary morality tale about self-defeating egoism and ill-digested foreign philosophies comes from the same period as one of the writer's best-known works, Midaq Alley. Both novels are comic and heartfelt indictments not so much of Egyptian society between the world wars as of human nature and our paltry attempts to establish just societies.


A fascinating example of human pain, degradation, and the tyranny of social relations. The Huffington Post

Mahfouz writes like an ancient Orient Express still chugging along in perfect condition, old-fashioned in almost every way, with a big Dickensian heart that seems to forgive and understand just about everyone. Crafty and unhurried, Mahfouz steers the narrative with a compassionate, frequently ironic hand, so subtle you're halfway to your destination before you realize where he's taking you. Midway through the novel, this cagey old master reveals a well-prepared shocker, which launches the story toward disaster.

- Shelf Awareness: Daily Enlightenment for the Book Trade

Politics and religion dance lightly upon the pages while Mahfouz focuses on the humanity of his characters and the inevitable consequences of a corrupt system. Cairo Modern rises above its theme by drawing the reader into a world where choosing the right path is impossible and forces each of us to consider carefully whether we would have acted differently in the same set of circumstances.


The novel is a gem, the perfect introduction to Mahfouz's work if you have never read any of his other novels.

- CounterPunch

About the Author

Naguib Mahfouz (1911 - 2006) was born in the Cairo district of Gamaliya. He wrote nearly 40 novel-length works, plus hundreds of short stories and numerous screenplays. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. William M. Hutchins, professor in the philosophy and religion Department at Appalachian State University, is the principal translator of Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy, and the translator of numerous other works of Arabic fiction.

More books by this author
Author 'Like for Like' recommendations

Loading other formats...

Book Info

Publication date

15th May 2008


Naguib Mahfouz

More books by Naguib Mahfouz
Author 'Like for Like'


The American University in Cairo Press


242 pages


Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



Love books. Love reading. Love reading books. And, here's the trick. Here's a website which caters for people like me.

Ian Harvey-brown

With literary excellence, humour and drama, Lovereading's got value and is a real stress-calmer!

Siobhan McDowell

I love reading books I wouldn't normally choose before everyone else gets to read them!

Dawn Lynch

Thanks to Lovereading I have discovered new writers and read books I would never had looked twice at - and enjoyed them.

Angela Rhodes

What can I say, the clue is in the title Lovereading - and awesome books.

Sarah Davis

Lovereading tells me about new books before they hit the shelves, lets me find other authors I may like and has great prize draws!

Sheila Dale

Love Reading - it not only does what it says on the tin, it does it with Jam on!!

Maz Tucker

If you LOVE reading then you will love LOVEREADING! It's a 'novel' idea. Seriously though I could not recommend them enough.

Rebecca Whymark