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Overview

The Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz refashions the classic tales of Scheherazade into a novel written in his own imaginative, spellbinding style. Here are genies and flying carpets, Aladdin and Sinbad, Ali Baba, and many other familiar stories from the tradition of The One Thousand and One Nights, made new by the magical pen of the acknowledged dean of Arabic letters, who plumbs their depths for timeless truths.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385469012
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/28/1995
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 755,230
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Naguib Mahfouz was born in Cairo in 1911 and began writing when he was seventeen. His nearly forty novels and hundreds of short stories range from re-imaginings of ancient myths to subtle commentaries on contemporary Egyptian politics and culture. Of his many works, most famous is The Cairo Trilogy, consisting of Palace Walk (1956), Palace of Desire (1957), and Sugar Street (1957), which focuses on a Cairo family through three generations, from 1917 until 1952. In 1988, he was the first writer in Arabic to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died in August 2006.

Reading Group Guide

There are nineteen works of fiction currently available in paperback from Anchor.  Because of the many universal themes of Mahfouz's work, and the variety of titles from which one can choose, this guide has been designed to provide you with questions that can apply to any or all of the books by Mahfouz which you choose to read.   The questions offer new perspectives and context for your conversations.


Although each of Mahfouz's novels is a unique reading experience, in an effort to guide you in making a selection, it is suggested that you might particularly be interested in one of the four following titles, each of which represents a different decade of his career:  Palace Walk (1956), Midaq Alley (1966), The Harafish (1977), and The Journey of Ibn Fattouma (1983).  For your convenience, a complete listing is included in this guide.

1) How would you identify the novel you are reading in terms of style and genre? What does it have in common with Western literature you have read? What about it appears to be particularly "Middle Eastern"?

2) What did you find familiar in Mahfouz's stories? What parallels can you find in your own culture or experience to the life in Egypt he describes?

3) What elements of this novel are unfamiliar/alien to you? Do these merely reflect cultural differences or do they also address larger, more universal themes?

4) It has been suggested by many writers that there is a great contrast between the men and the women in Mahfouz's novels; that the men are weaker and more flawed than the women, who are strong and dependable. Does this appear to be true in the novel(s) you have read? How would you characterize the women in Mahfouz's fiction?

5) Mahfouz once said "If I had traveled, like Hemingway, I'm sure that my work would have been different. My work was shaped by being so Egyptian." Focusing on the particular works you have read, in what ways do you imagine the tone of the narrative and the perspective might change had the text been written by a more "worldly" author?

6) How does Mahfouz's literary rendering of Egypt affect your political perception of the country? Does it alter any preconceptions you may have brought to the work for better or for worse?

7) In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, Mahfouz stated: "Man remembers what hurts more than what pleases." In what ways is this dictum borne out in his writings?

8) Many of Mahfouz's characters are derived from the lower and middle class strata of society. Yet he chooses to imbue all of his characters with a language that is considered to be classical literary Arabic as opposed to the colloquial dialects that would be more natural to their stations in life. Why do you think he does this? What effect does he achieve through the employment of this universal tongue?

9) When Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel Prize, many Arab and Egyptian intellectuals responded with mixed feelings. While on the one hand they were both pleased and proud that one of their own had achieved such recognition, on the other they wanted the world cautioned that his political views were not necessarily representative of the average Egyptian. What examples do you find in his writing that lead you to believe that there is a more "Western" sensibility at work here?

10) From 1949 to 1957, the books that Mahfouz produced were semi-autobiographical works of social realism. From 1961 to 1967, his output changed, with the pieces becoming existential and concerned with souls in a state of spiritual crisis. Since then, his approach has been eclectic. Consulting the publication chronology provided at the back of this guide, locate the period in which the book you have read came out, and discuss what elements there are in the writing style that identify it as belonging to that particular genre.

11) The novels, while possessing a timeless quality, are very much informed by a sense of place. Can you picture the events depicted here or the sensations of the characters occurring in our own society at any given point in our history? If so, when?

12) The Koran instills the belief and deference to one God. Often, the characters will refer to the "work of God" or view their fortunes as being "in God's hands." Discuss the theme of fate vs. personal determination that runs throughout the novels. How do religious beliefs protect and hinder us? How do they affect our ability to act?

13) With our Western ideology, we would view the lives of many of these women depicted as being

little better than that of prisoners. But what does Mahfouz-- with the advantage of his Egyptian heritage-- think of their lives? Do you imagine that he shares our opinion that they are repressed, or do you think that he finds their existence satisfying and as it should be?

14) Discuss the role of women's complicity in their own repression-- both in Cairene society and in our own-- as typified by classic examples in the text of blaming the victim.

15) Like all societies, this one has superstitions that are specific to it. Identifying them, discuss the negative and positive functions that these superstitions serve for Cairene society.

16) The narratives are almost completely serious in tone, with occasional pinpoints of humor brightening the way. Discuss the techniques employed by the author to inject humor into the tales, and your opinion as to whether or not he is successful.

17) Can we-- hampered by our Western vision-- appreciate the inherent beauty of a culture so different from our own, or does our perception of the wrongness of human oppression blind us to this?

18) Usually, the author refers to his characters by name. But, now and again-- particularly during more dramatic moments-- he will refer to them as "the man" or "the woman." What effect do you suppose that Mahfouz is trying to achieve through his fashioning of this style?

19) In 1919, Egypt experienced a brief period of rebellion against the British colonial rule. In 1952, there was a revolution. Situating the piece you have read against this historical backdrop, how does Mahfouz's writing speak to you about a nation experiencing internal unrest before, during, and after these periods of turmoil?

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Arabian Nights and Days 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
cabegley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Arabian Nights and Days picks up where Arabian Nights left off, after the sultan Shahriyar renounces his former bloodthirsty ways and looks forward to a long married life with Shahrzad. Although she does not voice it to the sultan, Shahrzad does not meet this new attitude of Shahriyar's with unalloyed joy, since his renunciation of his past acts does not erase the bloody past. Also, his reign of terror has resulted in a city where the good, for the most part, are dead or have fled, and the remaining citizens (and their governors) have more than their fair share of corruption.The story that follows is a struggle between the inhabitants of the town, human and genie alike, towards good or evil. Shahriyar, going beyond mere words, often goes out into the city in disguise at night, attempting to bring himself closer to goodness. Many of Shahrzad's stories find life in the town, and many characters from them reappear in different guise. The characters (and the readers) learn lessons of goodness, and strive (but do not always succeed) to follow them.Mahfouz does not follow an easy path, and there are no easy answers or endings in this book. As always, his writing is beautiful and contains much to think about. There were several passages I read over again, to savor the words and the meaning behind them. This is a book I will turn to again, in hopes of understanding more.
mattviews on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Naguib Mahfouz's Arabian Nights and Days is a bitterly entertaining and compelling read. In medieval age, in some unknown Islamic town, genies pulled a series of escapades that created havoc. The clash between the genies and the townspeople was evocative of inveterate, age-old struggles of virtue, corruption, despotism, injustice, and other practices purged by conscience.Seized by a pang of guilt that pricked his heart, Sultan Shahriyar repented of his atrocious massacre of virgins and other pious, god-fearing people. Shahrzad, daughter of vizier Dandan, sacrificed her happiness and remained with the sultan in order to stem the torrent of blood.Merchant Sanaan al-Gamali had a nightmare in which a genie would otherwise punish him if he refused to kill the governor, who had brought about the genie through black magic and made the genie accomplish purposes not approved by conscience. In a state of delirium and crazed fantasies, Sanaan raped and murdered a girl. When Gamali finally summoned his courage, unsheathed the dagger, aimed at the governor's heart and stabbed with a strength drawn from determination and despair, the genie abandoned Gamali to his own fate.Gamasa al-Bulti, the chief of police, was another man whom the genie chose to be the saving of the quarter from corruption. Gamasa was despondent at the ruin of Gamali's family, which now lived in ignominy. But the chief remained aloof to Gamali's widow for fear of ruining his own position and his standing with the sultan, who regarded the blow directed against his official as being aimed against him personally. The genie confronted Gamasa as one despicable person feeding off ignominy for he protected the elite (who was just as corrupted) by prosecuting the respectable people. In "repentance", Gamasa launched a lethal blow at the neck of the governor, who gave a horrified scream as his blood spurted like a fountain. Unlike the merchant, Gamasa was spared by the genie and was given a new identity Abdullah the porter who then continued the criminal killing spree.The above tales are just a tasteful sampling of Mahfouz's tour-de-force as a raconteur. Arabian Nights and Days is made up of stories and adventures of 1001 Nights-like characters whose lives Mahfouz deftly and seamlessly woven together and converged at the Café of the Emirs. The café was the central hangout spot of town, where the elite met the ordinary, the rich mingled with the poor. It was where Sinbad parted with the town and returned with serendipitous treasures. It was where every father of a virgin daughter felt reassured relieved and rejoiced over the news of sultan's repentance. It was where the whisperings of people regarding Aladdin's innocence originated and eventually reached the sultan's ears.The book does not manifest a plot; rather it drifts along and presents the etched characters and their tantalizing but bitter struggles. I have to employ some patience to scrupulously keep track of the exhaustive cast of characters and their intricate relationships (newly adopted identity, remarriage of widows, merry-go-round-like change/succession of governor and police chief). Underlying the thrilling tales are Mahfouz's persistent philosophical overtones and queries. What is the "true path" to salvation? To what extent is a person responsible for his wrongdoings? How does one gauge the extent of repentance, if one is persistently pricked by guilt? To what extent does conscience permit wrongdoings, if the wrongdoing is conducted for a good cause?The Islamic town is somehow a satirical miniature of the incorrigible society, a world of outward piety and latent corruption. The acts and conduct of the characters bespeak man's weakness that betrays trust, treats generosity with disdain, and plunges recklessly into debauchery and criminal activities. From stealing, stupid pranks to murder; we see the pitiful fall of one of the most morally righteous man in the book. Does his conscience justify his actions?I am not sur
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel almost made me cry. It laid bare the human condition in one fell stroke. I have never read a book that made me think of human conflict and folly quite like this one. I highly recommend this to people who love world literature.