Coming to the end of this book one must be obliged to say that what I am writing is not a book review but a review of books. The children of our alley is a collection of stories (five to be exact). Originally published in Arabic in 1959, under the title Awlad haratina the book has the ability to hold you in with the prose poetry kind of writing and musical dance on words.

 

Naguib tales one on a journey that is full of laughs cries and unexpected turns of an alley somewhere in Egypt owned by Gabalawi who is more of a mystery than anything else to his loyal subjects and hence the mystique makes the subjects create all kinds of myths and legends behind his existence that are sometimes so wildly exaggerated that one can only wonder if the people who lived in the alley were sane to believe them. Yet they were, in several instances you can see statements that just got to prove the human nature of Gabalawi and other statements just show how gullible the occupants of the alley can get.

 

Each story sheds its focus on the emergence of a hero of sorts that saves the town from some sort of tyranny that had plagued the alley especially focusing on gang rule, which then brings about stretches of time when everyone is happy and at peace. But eventually the hero dies and the dwellers of the alley fall back to greed and lust for money which brings the gang rule right back to exactly where it was before the hero emerged.

 

Funny thing is the book was written in 1959 and yet it’s writing sounds very 1990’s. The pick of words, the poetry interludes, the way the author seamlessly jumps from one topic to another all these things join up to make up a piece of work that was written in the middle of a tyranic era in Egypt but has a complete “later” feel to it. It is as if the writer was predicting something. Sure he touches on issues that affected his country at the time but the book has fundamental morals that are priceless.

 

Reading what I have written above it seems easy that someone could draw the conclusion that the book is “heavy” reading. It would be easy to mistake the book for one of those books that you meditate, tell yourself you are reading, set aside an afternoon a fortnight in advance, put on your thinking cap and read. It isn’t though. It is a very pleasurable book to read that takes you through story after story. It draws you into a world of happenings invokes the feeling in you that the character is feeling in his heart, plus it has amazing short snippets of poetry (which for a poetry lover like me is always a plus).

 

Normally when doing a book review the I find that the hardest part would be  how to pick an excerpt. Most books I reiew are just bursting at the seams with witty, inspiring, deep statements that at no one point can I oint and say this is the best statement in the book. It wasn’t the case this week, don’t  get me wrong not that there was any lack of thought provoking statements in the book but because the book, to me, was about the vanity of some situations this part really seemed to capture it for me. The excerpt is from the beginning of the 4th story, Qassem:

 

Almost nothing in the alley had changed. Feet that were still bare left their deep prints in the dirt. Flies still lingered in garbage and on people’s eyes. Faces were still tired and haggard, clothes were ragged, obscenities were exchanged like greetings and ears were numb with lies and hypocrisy. The mansion still sat behind it’s walls, immersed in silence and memory, with the overseer’s house to the right and the protectors house to the left;…

All in all this is definitely a book worth your time. The culture behind it and the power in every single word written sheds light on how no matter how much we try to change the world unless we get the people to change the world will remain the same.

 

About The Author

Naguib Mahfouz was born on December 11, 1911, in the old Gamaliya quarter of Cairo, the youngest of seven children in a family of five boys and two girls. Although he had many siblings, Mahfouz felt like an only child because the next youngest brother was ten years older than him. He mourned his lack of normal sibling bonds, which is reflected in the portrayal of fraternal relationships in much of his work. But his childhood was a happy one—the family was stable and loving, with religion playing a very important role in their life—and there are many signs of Mahfouz’s affection for his early childhood in his work.

 

Naguib Mahfouz died in Cairo on 30 August 2006 at the age of 94, in the presence of his wife Atiya and his daughters Fatma and Umm Kalthum. The Children of Our Alley was his 17th book and is available on Amazon.

 

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