This week marked the anniversary of an event of great significance: the release of one of the most important literary works in our modern history, Naguib Mahfouz’s “Trilogy comprising “Palace Walk, “Palace of Desire and “Sugar Street known to the world in various languages as “The Cairo Trilogy.
Precisely half a century has passed since the “Trilogy was published for the first time in1957, when it became a landmark in Arabic literature until the world discovered it and it became a landmark in human literature, earning its author the most prestigious literary award worldwide.
The significance of the “Trilogy – 1500 pages – doesn’t merely lie in the fact that it was authored by one of the major Nobel Prize-winning novelist of the 20th century, but also because it represents a historical chronicle of an entire nation during a pivotal era in its modern history, through the lives of three consecutive generations belonging to one middle class family.
Time and again foreign diplomats would tell me that they learnt about the nature of the Egyptian people before being posted in Cairo through Mahfouz’s “Trilogy more than through reading political or economic books.
In terms of literary merit, critics consider the “Trilogy as the epitome of realism. It is the pinnacle of our literary lives and its publication is a turning point in the literary history of the Arab novel, which must indeed be celebrated.
Just as Britain had organized celebrations in 2002 to mark the 80th anniversary of the release of James Joyce’s “Ulysses; and in 2003 France celebrated 90 years since publishing the first volumes of Marcel Proust’s colossal masterpiece “In Search of Lost Time, two novels which changed the face of fiction in the 20th century, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Mahfouz’s acclaimed “Trilogy.
The celebration included a major seminar by renowned scholars and literature professors who delved into various facets and nuances of the “Trilogy – an event which was widely covered by the media.
During another artistic evening, actor Youssef Abu Warda read excerpts from the “Trilogy to the accompaniment of classical Arabic music by reed flute (nay) player Albert Elias, an event which attracted droves of people despite the LE 40 ticket price.
This is only a fraction of the heritage left behind by Naguib Mahfouz whose 96th birth anniversary will be on Dec. 11, a heritage that makes us proud of ourselves, proud to show the rest of the world how we cherish the memory of our foremost novelist – but have you actually heard of such a celebration?
Well, if you haven’t, you have your excuse, because this celebration never took place in Egypt, Naguib Mahfouz’s motherland, whose streets and alleys he immortalized in his novels. But the celebration I’m talking about actually took place in Israel – yes, in Israel – under the title “Cairo, yesterday and today.
The event was supervised by renowned literature professor Samson Sumich .blast him, blast Israel and long live Egypt, with its great people always loyal to its great heritage and to the memory of its great novelists!
Mohamed Salmawyis President of the Arab Writer’s Union and editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram Hebdo. This article is syndicated in the Arabic press.