Did not quite live up to my (stupidly) high expectations
Title: Children of the Alley (أولاد حارتنا)
Author: Naguib Mahfouz (Translator: Peter Theroux)
Genre: Fiction / Classic / Arabic Classic
First published: 1959
Edition: Paperback, published by Anchor in 1996
The history of a Cairo alley through several generations. Successive heroes struggle to restore the rights of the people to the trust fund set up by their ancestor Gebelaawi, usurped by embezzlers and tyrants. Mahfouz creates in all its detail a world on the frontier between the real and the imaginary. At a deeper level, the book is an allegory whose heroes relive the lives of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Moses, Jesus and Muhammed.
This is the story of our alley – its stories, rather. I have witnessed only the most recent events, those of my own time, but I have recorded all of them the way our storytellers told them.
I will start by saying this is the fifth novel by this Egyptian author I have read and I have to say it is my least favourite. I still liked it, but I did not quite got sucked into the story like I did with his other novels.
I still loved the writing and way he tells his stories, but the story itself simply did not do that much for me. Sure, history repeats and in the end nothing much changes despite people’s best intentions and deeds, but in the end I found this novel rather a bleak and even a little bit of a depressing read. Even so, reading a novel by this author always feels like a bit of an experience and I like that.
I think this novel will work for some and not for others. For me, I liked the concepts and the way they tie to religion, but I just did not end up loving this one. The writing was beautiful as always, and bits of the story I really enjoyed, especially the beginning, but in the end I did not feel I got enough satisfaction from the narrative as it progressed.
I would still advise anyone wanting to try some Mahfouz to start with his Cairo Trilogy, which I really loved and is a very engaging trio of generational saga books set in Cairo over a period of fifty years or so. I do highly recommend his books in general.
5 out of 7 stars
- Characters: 8
- Ambience: 8
- Language: 9
- Story: 7.5
- Pacing: 7.5
- Interest: 7.5
- Enjoyment: 7.5