The Harafish by Naguib Mahfouz

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The Harafish by Naguib Mahfouz

Egyptian fiction

Original title –  ملحمة الحرافيش

Translator – Catherine Cobham

Source – personal copy

I was looking for a number of books to do for the 1977 club and this was another that cropped up as coming out in Arabic that year. Mahfouz was a Nobel winner. He was regarded as the first truly modern writer in Egypt and his books have been described as Existentialist in their style. He is maybe best known for his Cario Trilogy. A man that spoke out for what he believed in most of his books were banned in the Arab world to his Nobel win. It also gives me a chance to fill a gap in the writers that should be on this blog.

Nothing like this had ever happened in the alley. The police only came near it in extreme emergencies. The clan chief’s numerous crimes were usually unattributed, thanks to the testimony of false witness. was inspector Faud Abd al-Tawwab going to do what nobody had done before him of Mohammed Anwar’s body was discovered on the path or under the archway? How had Muhammad had the insolence to go to the police for help, and why had the inspector been ready to challenge Nuh in this underhand way?

The police were rare visitors to the Alley here because someone went outside the alley world.

The harafish is a family saga told over ten chapters as we follow the family living in an alley from Ashur Al Nagi whom is the chief of the family in the first tale through the years and generations til the last story Ashur crops up again the chapters are told in small vignettes. I liked the style it was almost like reading or listening to gossip on the street among the Harafish as the people of the alley are called. Exist is hard at times I remember a line on page 301 where someone says “you’d preserve your youth forever ” this shows the toughness of this world. The cycles of the alley violence trying to get to the top is repeated over the chapters the characters are different sons or daughters of earlier characters. I loved the part in one chapter, when the police appeared which was considered an outrage as they liked to run there own little world.

The emotions of the Nagi family and the harafish were set in turmoil by the unexpected return and sudden disappearence of Samah. His sons were probably the least affected of anybody because he came and went while they were asleep and anyway, as far as they were concerned, he was no longer much more than a faint memory, like their mother in Bulaq. His story was told far and wide, and became a legend and a cautionary tale.

The opening of the fifth chapter and already past battles become like a myth or legend.

This is a clever book as you think it is cardio and feel as though you know the timeframe of the novel. But nothing is ever said about the timeframe of the novel or the location of the book all we know is that the families live in an alley where the characters all live. A true family saga covering the years of a place. Mahfouz was a fan of Zola and Balzacs works and there is a feeling of their worlds here a tough look at life realist but also at the same time without time and place it could be another place even if you change the names and in that regard for me it is a true work of Existentialism of the question why are we here why are they there what makes their world. A great second choice for 1977club and for me another piece in the canon of books and writers I have covered on the blog. I hope at some point to bring the Cario trilogy to the blog.

 

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The end of A family story by Peter Nadas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The end of a family story by Peter Nadas

Hungarian fiction

Original title – Egy családregény vége

Translator – Imre Goldstein

Source – Personel copy

Well, I pleased that this cycle of the year club Simon and Karen run is on 1977. As when I looked up books that had been published in the original language that year.One of the books I found was the debut novel by Peter Nadas, I reviewed his Magnus opus Parallel stories a few years ago. Nadas is one of the most regarded European writers. He own story reads like a novel he lost his mother at 13 and his father when he was 16 leaving Nadas and orphan. When his father committed suicide he was the head of a ministry that had been accused of various things.

When Grandpa died, grandmama filled the largest pot with water and put it on the stove. She poured two handfuls of salt into it and some black powder and then kept stirring . In the boiling brew she cooked her brown, gray , and dark-blue dresses untill they were black it was bad about the gray one, I liked that dress, especially when she wore it with the gold butterfly broch.Only her satin dress with the big flowers she didn’t cook, she left it the way it was – black flowers on a white background.

Death is a recurrent theme but like this passage I was remind of how Victorians mourned at times.

Like parallel stories, this is a novel set in the heart of Communist Hungry.This is a first thread and how they were able to break families But also it has a second and third part. The second line is a family saga. Simon the grandson of a family is in sent to an institution where everyone lives in silence. He keeps himself going with remembering over time his family story from his grandmother and grandfather at home the grandfather whom at times seem half dead. Had been one of these men that loved telling stories and tales these are what heartens the boy in a silent world. They also lead to the third thread in the book which is stories and thoughts around religion and communism. Both Catholic church and the Jews histories are told to the boy from his grandfather bring threads of their lives to Rome and the other way to Jerusalem. as a young boy becomes a man as he has also in this time lost his father and mother and being drawn into the adult world much earlier than he should have been Simon only solaces is remembering those tales and trying to draw some heart out of them.

One day up in the attic Grandpapa was telling me about our ancestors. Grandmama had brought fish from the market. She was very glad to have got one because Grandpapa loved fish. She stood in line for two hours, but she couldn’t go to the church with the fish.When she got wind of something being available she’d take me along, too. I didn’t like that because people would yell at her.” Look at her shoving and pushing!” “Don’t they know where the end of the line is ? Back there!” “Must be deaf””Where are you bulldozing your way to now ?”

Simon was used to help fetch bits from the market in those hard communist days of waiting being a sport this is later in the book showing the shifting feel of time at times in the book.

Like in parallel stories Nadas paints bleak times with a brush that makes his words float off the pages and through Simon and his world show even in the worst of times there is a glimmer of light to lead the way. It is a book that drifts through time this is also something he did in Parallel stories. Then there is Death and one must feel the fact that both Nadas himself and Simon had lost their parents the feelings of loss must be Nadas own and death is a recurrent theme in his books, lives being cut short. But also a sense of how the communist world of the 1950’s when the book is set would strangle those who did fit in and break the others who tried to be themselves.

1977 club and a true bargain

I had missed most of their previous year clubs when Simon and Karen have run them so when they announced the next in April after managing to do 1968 last month. They have chosen 1977 as the next year as with my 68 entries I have chosen the published year of the book in the original language I found three and have two already and will keep the other as a surprise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first is The end of the family story By Hungarian writer Peter Nadas, I reviewed his masterpiece Parallel stories an epic in every sense. This is his debut novel and set in the stern Stalinist period of the 1950’s. One man’s story Simon has a dead mother and a father locked up !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second choice Takes me to Latin America and Jorge Amado the Brazilian writer that had been nominated a number of times for the Nobel prize. I have read Dona Flors by him and have another book by him on the shelves, but haven’t reviewed him yet and be nice to add more Brazilian writers to the blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not for 1977 but a bargain find today was the first edition of Anna Kavan Ice which is considered a masterpiece of genre-defying lit.

 

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