Another book, another Nobel Prize winner, I am not intentionally looking out for Nobel laureates to read, they just seem to be coming my way first Mikhail Sholokov (1965) then Toni Morrison (1993) and now Naguib Mahfouz (1988), next Alice Munro (2013). AA full list of the Nobel laureates for literature can be found here on Wikipedia.
Midaq Alley is one of the back alleys of Cairo. The characters could be part of a soap opera with an Arabic twist. The men gather in the cafés, the women attend to their chores, both groups delight in gossip.
“What’s wrong with people that they can’t mind their own business and leave others to mind theirs?” laments Kirsha, the cafe owner, maligned by his neighbours and his wife for his unhealthy interest in young men. Sheikh Darwish observes: “It’s an old evil. In English they call it homosexuality and it is spelled h-o-m-o-s-e-x-u-a-l-i-t-y.” The Sheikh likes to show off his learning by spelling words in English.
There is a matchmaker Umm Hamida, who is engaged by a middle aged widow to find her a suitable match, but she can’t find a match for her own foster daughter, the wayward Hamida.
Zaita, the cripple maker, is like a character from Slumdog Millionaire, he twists limbs and blinds people referred to him so they can be more profitable beggars.
The action takes place in wartime Egypt, where good pay could be found helping the British Army, some of the characters escape the Alley to make their fortune thus. Abbas, the lowly barber, finds such work, hoping to return to the Alley as a man of means and marry Hamida. Hamida is headstrong and has other ideas.
Mahfouz describes the streets and characters in Cairo, like Dickens did with London, full of life and foibles. Like A Tale of Two Cities, there is even a grave robbing scene in this story.
My rating 4 out of 5
…and Emma the body count in this one is just one, unless you count the victim of the grave robbery, who has no living role in the story.