حول ترجمة نجيب محفوظ إلى الإنجليزية

محمد عناني
M.M. Enani
Asked what he felt on first learning that he had won the Nobel Prize, Naguib Mahfouz simply said “I wish one of my masters had won it instead — Abbas Mahmoud Al-Aqqad, Taha Hussein or Tewfik Al-Hakim!” The news was broken to him in the presence of Egyptian television cameras, and the moment of achievement was captured on film and broadcast live more than thirteen years ago. The modesty of the man was impressive: his joy only reminded him that he belonged to a great tradition — that he was only the last in a line of masters of Arabic letters. The Nobel Prize, in practically all fields, had till then been almost a monopoly of Westerners, as had the direction of translation been mainly from European languages into Arabic (and other languages of the third-world). Though stars of the first magnitude in the Arab world, Al-Aqqad, Taha Hussein and Al-Hakim had been known only to Arabic scholars in the universities abroad. With few of their works translated into European languages, their chances of being ‘well known’ to the reading public in Europe and America were very slim indeed. Our generation grew up to admire Al-Aqqad’s ‘biographies’, Al-Hakim’s fiction and drama, and Taha Hussein’s fiction and literary scholarship, as well as the fiction of Heykal, Yehya Haqqi, Teymour and a host of other eminent twentieth-century figures. They were all pioneers who adapted Western literary forms to the literary requirements of the rising intelligentsia in the Arab world and, in the process, adapting ‘classical’ Arabic to suit these new forms. In colonial times, orientalists could only choose for translation those of their works that either reflected the ‘image of the orient’ created by the West, as Edward Said has shown, or had universal appeal. But Western publishers had not been enthusiastic enough: commercial considerations inevitably constrained the translation effort and the reading public knew very little about modern Arabic literature. Even if the Swedish Academy had previously decided to widen the scope of its Nobel nominees, it would have found it difficult to judge any of them (rightly assessing their contribution to world literature) on the strength of the available translated material.
With the revival of interest in the Arab ‘Orient’ and the global upheavals following World War II, translation efforts intensified and the orientalists were joined by native speakers of Arabic who produced readable English translations of many contemporary literary figures. In the post-colonial era Western markets opened up to works by third world writers as the polarization of the cold war led to the emergence of ‘non-alignment’ as a political movement giving credibility to what de Gaulle first called ‘tiers-monde’. There was a demand for third-world literature and for knowledge of third-world languages. The world was getting smaller, too, because of the revolution in information technology, and translation flourished. With detente in the early 1970s, and the introduction of Arabic as the sixth official language at the United Nations, Arabic departments in Western universities were established or strengthened, and Arab writers began to be more represented in comparative literature courses. Long before Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize, translation had seemed the gateway to world ‘recognition’ (or fame) or at least to a place among ‘foreign’ writers whose works were available in European languages.
In 1981, whilst on a tour of US academic centres, and as members of the Egyptian delegation entrusted with presenting Arab culture to American audiences (the Egypt Today programme) Samir Sarhan and I thought of launching an Egyptian English-language quarterly entitled ‘Cairo Literary Review’. The plan was applauded by Lewis Awad, an eminent member of the delegation, and by Salah Abdul-Saboor, the well known poet, who, as Chairman of the Egyptian State Publishing House, alternatively known as the General Egyptian Book Organization (GEBO), said it should initially include Arabic verse and short stories in English translation. Thus conceived, its aim would have been modest indeed, but it would have been a step in the right direction, prompted as it was by the enthusiastic response of American audiences to the specimens of Arabic verse I had translated (mostly from Salah Abdul-Saboor’s latest volume of verse). Professor Sohair El-Qalamawi, the distinguished Arabic scholar, was impressed by the reaction of our audiences and said she would contribute to the proposed ‘Review’, while another member of the delegation, Dr. Morsi Sa’d el-Din, said he had already started publication of an Egyptian English-language monthly entitled ‘Cairo Today’ (the parent magazine of Egypt Today). There was a new spirit in the air — a feeling that Arabic literature was not as exotic as Westerners had been brought up to believe, that Abdul-Saboor’s verse, even in translation, meant something to our American audiences, that the whole literary effort, regardless of language, was relevant to today’s world.
Back in Cairo, Sarhan and I wasted no time, and the material for the first issue had been prepared when Abdul-Saboor suddenly died. Naturally, the planned ‘Review’ never got off the ground, but the dream of presenting contemporary Arabic literature in English persisted. When Sarhan became chairman of GEBO in 1985, his first priority was to revive the project. It would not, however, be a ‘Review’ but a series of translations entitled ‘Contemporary Arabic Literature’, and focusing on the post-Mahfouz generation; for it was that generation which, in our judgment, required recognition. Eventually, however, Professor Nehad Salaiha translated Mahfouz’s one-act plays, and Professor Malak Hashim translated one of his novels — The Day the Leader was killed. Before Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize, fifteen titles had appeared in the series, including plays, novels, short stories and poetry collections. With the Nobel Prize, demand for our series abroad rose as though the prize had been an official seal of global recognition. Translation seemed to be a means of familiarizing the world with our literary work, even with our life itself, and Arab writers in the last two decades of the twentieth century were eager to have their works translated, in the hope they would be read and enjoyed worldwide. Translations into English and French proliferated at home and abroad, and the translators have been both Arab and non-Arab.
Meanwhile interest in translation as an academic discipline rose to an unprecedented pitch in the 1980s and 90s, and academic work on translation came to be recognized as a combined linguistic and cultural pursuit.
Modern scholars of ‘linguistics’, the new-born ‘science’, had a great deal to say about structure and texture, applying European linguistic theories to the only language they believed to be alive — the vernacular or Egyptian Arabic, but had little to say, if any, about ‘classical’ Arabic — both ‘archaic’ Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). Semanticians were busy with their analysis of ‘primes’ and ‘universals’ but left ‘pragmatics’ to ‘pragmaticians’. Having devoted most of their energies to biblical translations, Eruopean and US scholars now turned to ‘theory’ and advanced many theories on translation as a linguistic exercise and as discourse. In the 1990s interest shifted to translation as cultural activity, with many aspects handled, more or less adequately. Cairo University proved to be a pioneer in translation studies (Translatology) and was soon followed by other Arab and, mainly British, Universities. M.A. and Ph.D. These were presented on the translation of the Quran, Shakespeare and Naguib Mahfouz. Academic research showed how difficult it was to establish semantic and/or cultural correspondences between Arabic and English, and how Arabic was a special case, especially MSA which is deeply-rooted in archaic Arabic but still relies heavily (both in cultural connotations, and for its very living voice) on the ‘vernacular’. MSA is not modern in the usual European sense; and any translator inevitably faces innumerable problems when doing a work of fiction where the Arab writer colours the archaic roots with ‘vernacular’ hues or relies on the vernacular for his ‘tone’. Combining two linguistic varieties (the archaic and the vernacular) MSA as used in literature has also been an indirect result of translations from European languages, showing the influence of many ‘modes of thinking’ existing in neither ‘variety’. It has been described, aptly, as a ‘melting pot’, but I prefer to regard it as a living language, increasingly relying on contemporary life in today’s world, and continually developing with the evolution of new ideas and new modes of living. The press may be credited with establishing MSA initially, but it was the major Arab writers of the twentieth century who gave it the respect which only archaic Arabic had enjoyed in the 19th, and the three exponents of Arabic letters mentioned by Mahfouz as worthier of the Nobel Prize were certainly among them. The development of Naguib Mahfouz’s language, the subject of this essay, is itself a record of the evolution of MSA. Starting his writing career during the upheavals of the thirties, Mahfouz shows in his early work all the signs of a writer battling against an ancient idiom, feeling (none better) its inadequacies, and fighting to evolve a literary version of MSA best suited to his purposes. To risk a generalization, it may be said that the development of Mahfouz as a writer is also the development of a new language, a brand of MSA proceeding from classical to modernist idiom, from traditional to innovative style, even from the archaic (and defunct) to the contemporary and the living.
This, in short, is the aspect most translators of Mahfouz seem to have ignored: it has been the subject of many academic dissertations, some of which I have supervised. It has partly prompted my thinking about translating Arabic as an area worth of academic study (cf. my On Translating Arabic: a Cultural Approach, Cairo, 2000). The present essay is mainly concerned with the development of Naguib Mahfouz’s language, in the hope that other studies will be made and better tranlations of Mahfouz are produced.
To risk another generalization, even at the cost of oversimplification, I would like to state at the outset that Mahfouz developed over the years from a traditionalist, fighting or, at least, resenting the confines of his own ‘rhetoric’, to a modernist experimenting with language and finally succeeding in adapting it to suit his own purposes. His initial position was that of a traditionalist who cared more about sounding truly Arabic (by using classical rhetoric, now indistinguishable from the idiom of any ‘good’ style) than about the needs of his art. For almost a decade his language showed signs of conflict, as he hesitated, often oscillating between two extremes, and often using more than one ‘stylistic mode’. Modern Standard Arabic had, by the thirties, when he published his first novel, established itself as the language of the intelligentsia, while archaic Arabic had been recognized to be so. But the classical ideal had not been banished forever: it remained as an ideal, and it fed the early ‘styles’ of Mahfouz. Up till then, the Egyptian dialect had been kept at bay, in spite of the personal temptations for Mahfouz, if only because no writer aspiring to recognition by the literary establishment could dare flirt with it.
The second stage, extending over thirty years or more, started with the serialization in Al-Risalah Al-Jadidah, edited by Youssef Al-Siba’i, of his great novel, the first in the famous trilogy, Bayn Al-Qasrayn. The ideal here was the realism-naturalism of the great Europeans—Zola, Balzac and Dickens, primarily, but Dostoevsky and Tolstoy as well. While he focused on the life of the lower orders of the society, he could not but resort to their language as the perfect medium of reflecting their thought-processes and states of mind: but this had to be done into standard Arabic, especially in the dialogue, marking a new stage in his development. He could now adapt his style to represent inner and outer realities, varying his language to make it capable of the quick rhythms as well as the old lapidary, often stately rhythms of ancient Arabic. His major achievement was not, however, in the dialogue, but in evolving a novel language for narration and description.
The last stage is hardly uniform or consistent, for here we have a master-craftsman who could absorb and occasionally advance beyond the techniques of the Europeans, and, consciously, I am sure, profit by their variety in adjusting his language to the requirements of his art — now becoming so varied in its objectives as to defy definition. I prefer to call this stage ‘experimental’ in so far as it has allowed him to produce different styles, each designed to produce a different effect, and in view of the fact that his language, now unquestionably ‘modern’, varies in its use of ‘rhetoric’ as defined in today’s linguistic arts.


As late as his fourth novel, Rhodopis, 1943 (with a decade of writing behind him) Mahfouz displays all the signs of a writer fighting to shake off the rhetorical tradition of his ancestors. He could not do it all at once, for in those days he still wanted to court the traditionalist-educated elite regardless of his innovations in his chosen linguistic art. The very first page of the novel, too long to quote in full, is brimming with the idiom of archaic Arabic, with expressions directly borrowed from the Holy Quran:
بَيْنَ يَدَيْ رَحْمَتِهِ A harbinger of His mercy
قَلَّبُوا وُجُوهَهُمْ فِي السَّمَاءِ They turned their faces from
one part of the heavens to another
خِفَافًا وَثِقَالًا With light and heavy burdens
The references are direct, I have suggested, and the reader cannot miss them. But these are ‘echoes’ of Quranic language and do not constitute an essential part of the structure. Now look at the opening sentences:

لاحت في الأفق الشرقي تباشير ذلك اليوم من شهر بشنس، المنطوي في أثناء الزمان منذ أربعة آلاف سنة. وكان الكاهن الأكبر لمعبد الرب سوتيس يتطلع إلى صفحة السماء بعينين ذابلتين أضناهما التعب طوال الليل، وإنه لفي تطلعه إذ عثر بصره بالشعرى اليمانية يتألق نورها في كبد السماء، فتهلل وجهه بالبشر، وخفق قلبه بالفرح.

which translates, freely, as follows:
As the early lights of that day of the month of Bashans1 streaked the eastern horizon, a day enfolded in ancient times four thousand years ago, Soutis, the Grand Priest of the temple of God turned his withered eyes, weary with the night-long watch, to the face of the heavens. At length he sighted Sirius brilliantly glittering in mid-sky; his face brightened with joy, and his heart throbbed with excitement.
I say ‘freely’ because I have allowed myself those freedoms generally accepted today in literary translation. Literally rendered, however, the idiom will be almost too obtrusive: the ‘early lights’ of the first line is really the ‘early good signs’ or even the good ‘omens’; ‘enfolded in ancient times’ is really ‘folded in the folds of time’; the ‘night-long watch’ is in the Arabic text ‘the night-long fatigue’; ‘mid-sky’ is literally the ‘liver of the sky’ (the liver being used as a synonym for the heart in idiomatic Arabic); and the final ‘excitement’ is yet another ‘joy’.
Apart from the idiom, the syntax reflects a regularity of thought that establishes a pattern easily responded to by the classicists. The ‘action’ at the opening of the novel, the sighting of Sirius, the Dog Star, which marks the beginning of the summer in Egypt and the flooding of the Nile, is deliberately calculated to create a link between people’s life in the Nile Valley, almost totally dependent on Nile water, and the stars of Heaven above! That the Grand Priest should sight the star is only too natural, and the language here, alive with references to the Quran, creates the air of familiarity needed if the incidents which had taken place in a past so distant are to be accepted as part of the Egyptian life, now ‘throbbing’ with the religious zeal of another religion — Islam. The idiom is therefore needed for a cultural purpose, and Mahfouz uses it to maintain that cultural tone throughout. At the time, he could only distance himself from present reality and ‘enfold’ everything in ti language of the ancients, even if Pharaonic Egypt was to be expressed in terms of Islamic Egypt (Arabic, the language of the Quran, being the medium).
It is, however, in the dialogue that the ancient idiom appears incongruous. On pages 181–182 an interesting dialogue between Rhodopis and the king indicates that neither in prose nor in ‘dramatic’ dialogue was Mahfouz willing to abandon the classical tradition:

– مولاي! إن الناس كالسفينة الضالة بلا سكان، تحملها الرياح كيفما تشاء.

فقال بوعد مخيف: سأُذهب ريحهم!

وعاودتها المخاوف والشكوك، وخانها صبرها في تلك اللحظة فقالت: ينبغي أن نستوصي بالحكمة، وأن نتراجع زمنًا قصيرًا مختارين، وإن يوم النصر لقريب.

فنظر إليها بغرابة وقال: أتشيرين عليَّ بالخضوع يا رادوبيس؟

فضمته إلى صدرها وقد آلمتها لهجته، ثم قالت وقد فاضت عيناها بدمع سخين: أحرى بمن يتحفز للوثبة الكبرى أن ينكمش أقدامًا، والنصر رهين بالنهاية.

فتأوَّه الملك ثم قال: آه يا رادوبيس! إذا كنت أنت تتجاهلين نفسي، فمن ذا الذي يمكن أن يعرفها؟ أنا من إذا نزل مرغمًا على إرادة إنسان ذبل کمدًا كوردةٍ سفتها الرياح.

– My Lord! the people are like a tossed ship which, without a rudder, is driven by the winds in all directions!
In a tone of awful menace he said:
– I’ll take the wind out of their sails!
Assailed once again by misgivings and doubts and failed by her patience at that moment she said:
– We shall be well-advised to resort to wisdom, voluntarily beating a temporary retreat. The day of victory is drawing near.
He looked at her in astonishment and said:
– Are you recommending submission, Rhodopis?
Hurt by his tone, she hugged him and, with scalding tears flowing down from her eyes, she said:
– He who prepares for the big assault does well to retreat a few feet. Victory depends on the final thrust.
The King sighed and said:
– Oh, Rhodopis! If you pretend not to know my soul, who else will? If I submit in spite of myself to the will of any man, I shall wilt away in sorrow-like a rose withered by the wind!
One can always, I am sure, defend this language as an attempt at a poetic style, though Mahfouz did not attempt to write poetry but simply good prose. The fact is that the idiom of classical Arabic forced him to ‘sound’ poetic, as the distinction between ‘literary’ and ‘poetic’ styles had not as yet been established, and the poetic devices we today recognize as such were at the time simply idiomatic in the classical language and a sign of ‘elevated’ style in verse and prose alike. It is unthinkable that anyone should write a dramatic dialogue like this whether in verse or prose, today, thanks ironically, to the efforts later made by Mahfouz himself (together with others of course) to rid the literary language of such standard rhetorical devices. Other ‘ideas’ of literariness came into being and with them, different criteria of judging a work of art. Periphrasis is today scoffed at and only a handful of writers actually resort to florid circumlocution. And as the idiom changed, the early works that relied for literariness on this brand of rhetoric ceased to be regaded as ‘living’ literature but have been increasingly dealt with as period pieces. It is partly on account of this that Mahfouz’s early works are often dismissed as juvenilia.


Sometime in the mid-forties, perhaps as a result of his coming into contact with writers of the modern novel in Europe, Mahfouz abandoned the historical novel and, with it, forever, the old rhetoric. Since the publication of Al-Qahirah Al-Jadidah (The New Cairo) in 1945 masterpieces have flowed from his pen that transformed the Arabic novel. For almost thirty years, he wrote novels in the new language of fiction characterized by the following: accurate description, alive to such ‘significant’ details as may contribute to a particular state of mind or a general mood; ‘smooth’ narration, uninterrupted and unencumbered by figures of speech (dead or alive) or other rhetorical embellishments; and, most importantly, ‘nimble’ dialogue that echoes the Egyptian dialect and is often a literal rendering of it. Sixteen novels and seven collections of short stories were produced in that period (1945–1974) before another change occurred making yet another stage in his development beginning with Al-Karnak (1974) and continuing in the same vein of experimentation till today.
In all three areas — description, narration and dialogue — Naguib Mahfouz adapted rather than fought back the old idiom. The impressionistic terms I have used in referring to his innovations in each area now need substantiation. Let us take our random examples from a novel that left an indelible impression on our generation, namely Zuqaq Al-Midaq (Al-Midaq Alley). I have had a chance to refer to its adaptation to the stage in my Introduction to Sa’d El-Din Wahba’s Mosquito Bridge (State Publishing House, Cairo, 1987, pp. 12–13) referring, in passing, to the great stir it made when produced in the mid-fifties on the Egyptian stage. It was made into a film too, and the novel itself has been reprinted a dozen times. Let us take, as I said, a random passage from the latter part of the novel where Ibrahim Farag introduces Hamidah for the first time to eau de cologne, with an old version of the ‘atomizer’:

وذهب إلى التواليت فأتى بزجاجة زرقاء كروية يتصل بفم معدني فيها أنبوبة من المطاط الأحمر، وسدَّد فوهتها نحو وجهها، وجعل يضغط على الأنبوبة فيمج في صفحة وجهها سائلًا زكي الشذا، وقد ارتعشت في بادئ الأمر شاهقةً، ثم استنامت إلى طيبها في دهشة وارتياح. وألبسها الروب بنفسه، وجاءها بشبشبه فانتعلته، ثم تأبَّط ذراعها ومضى بها إلى الحجرة الأخرى، ثم إلى الردهة الخارجية، وسارا معًا متجهين صوب أول باب إلى اليمين.

He went to the dressing-table and picked up a round blue bottle with a metal spout to which a red rubber tube was attached. Pointing its end at her, he pressed the rubber tube hard to sprinkle a sweet-smelling liquid on her face. She initially trembled and gasped but soon, amazed and delighted, surrendered to the fragrance. He helped her to put on a dressing grown and gave her his slippers which she put on too. Arm in arm, he took her to the next room, thence to the outer hall and, together, they walked towards the first door on the right.
(pp. 225–6)
As the transition from one part of the scene is done concurrently with the action, the language of description becomes almost indistinguishable from that of narration. Naguib Mahfouz was conscious, I suspect, of the solutions he now offered to some of the problems of writing about modern life in classical Arabic, some of which, no doubt, made modern standard Arabic possible. He does not shy away from words which are peculiar to the Egyptian dialect, such as التواليت (El-Toilet), الروب (El-Robe) and الشبشب (El-Shebsheb) — the first two borrowed from French, the last coined from an Arabic word (shabba) in accordance with a generative principle widely applied.2
At the same time he prefers to maintain the classical level if the words available are adequate, however little used, such as يمج (spray); زكي الشذا (of sweet fragrance); استنامت (surrendered, acquiesced); انتعلته (put on shoes or slippers) and bet (put under one’s arm). Meanwhile he accepts those words recently coined as translations of foreign words approved by the Arabic Language Academy for lack of equivalents in ancient Arabic such as أنبوبة (tube) and مطاط (rubber). Semantically he uses classical words in their modern sense, so that الردهة is used to mean a hall while in ancient Arabic it had meant heath-top or a rock hill. Nor does he insist on the distinction in Arabic between حجرة (a ground floor room) and غرفة (an upper floor room), using the former in place of the latter.
Syntactically, Mahfouz seems to depart but little from Archaic Arabic; but he does attempt one or two innovations. He relies in connecting his sentences on what appear to be, or what are (as formally defined in classical grammar) ‘coordinating conjunctions’, but the pattern of using them makes the effect closer to ‘bondage’ than to ‘linkage,’ 3 so that the reader is tempted to change the apparent structure into the ‘real’ or the significant one. Look at the opening sentence, apparently consisting as it does of two main clauses connected with a conjunction (ف), with the second sentence having a relative clause beginning with a verb يتصل as is common in classical Arabic, though the classicists would prefer ذات فم معدني يتصل to Le sites mi her and that is perhaps why I have rendered it ‘with a metal spout rather than ‘wherein was a metal spout’. Now the conjunction (ف) could in Arabic suggest either a simple ‘and’ implying a subsequent action (he went and he fetched) or an article expressing ‘purpose’ (he went to fetch). The latter is obviously what is meant here, so that the rendering could be: “He went to the dressing-table to fetch …” or “Reaching the dressing-table he took …” or simply: ‘From the dressing-table he fetched …”. Indeed, the pattern of conjunctions in the whole passage suggests more ‘subordination’ than ‘coordination’ so that the structure is closer to the European system of dependent and independent clauses than to the classical Arabic one of equally significant series of independent sentences. Note the following sequence of conjunctions:
(و) (ثم + و ثم + و + و) (ثم و) (ف و + و) (− ف و)
where the second, fifth, seventh, eleventh and twelfth suggest the subordination.4
It may be hard to claim such a suggestion of ‘subordination’ is totally unknown in classical Arabic or that Mahfouz was the first to attempt it; but the fact that he now made it a regular ‘mode’ of narrative style, established it as a linguistic feature of the new Arabic. By simply varying his conjunctions Mahfouz could control his tone and shift the semantic focus as he pleased, solely through syntax. Other ‘solutions’ need not be dwelt upon, though important, such as the use of the adverbial structure ‘preposition + noun’ instead of the old ‘adverb’ الحال. In one sentence the latter is used شاهقةً (gaspingly) then the former في دهشة وارتياح (in amazement and with delight). Was Mahfouz flying a kite?
Just as description is closely interwoven here with narration, a common enough feature of the modern novel, the narrative stream in Mahfouz is never interrupted to allow for his typical analysis of his characters’ states of mind. What is more important for our purposes is that at this stage in his development Mahfouz discovers the power of the vernacular, a power which he gives to his dialogue by making it echo — closely and literally — the Egyptian dialect. Part 18 of the same novel deals with a domestic scene when Umm Hamida (Hamida’s mother) breaks the news to her of a new unexpected suitor. I would have liked to quote the opening paragraphs in full but they are too long:

ومضت أم حميدة مهرولةً إلى شقتها، وفي هذا الشوط القصير — ما بين الوكالة والشقة — ثمل خيالها بأحلام عِراض. وجدت حميدة واقفةً وسط الحجرة تمشِّط شعرها، فتفحصتها بعينين ثاقبتين كأنما تراها لأول مرة، أو كأنها تعاين الأنثى التي خبلت رجلًا له وقار السيد سليم علوان وسنه وثروته، ووجدت المرأة عاطفة تشبه الحسد …

ثم قالت لها دون أن تحول عنها عينيها: مولودة في ليلة القدر والحسين!

فأمسكت حميدة عن تمشيط شعرها الأسود اللامع، وسألتها ضاحكةً: لِمه؟ ماذا وراءك؟ هل من جديد؟

فخلعت المرأة ملاءتها وطرحتها على الكنبة، ثم قالت بهدوء وهي تتفرس وجهها لتمتحن أثر كلامها فيه: عروس جديد!

فلاحَ في العينين السوداوين اهتمام ويقظة تخالطهما دهشة، وتساءلت الفتاة: أتقولين حقًّا؟

– عروس كبير المقام يتمنع عن الأحلام يا بنت الكلب …

– من عساه يكون؟

– خمني …

– من …

– السيد سليم علوان على سن ورمح …

– سليم علوان صاحب الوكالة؟

– صاحب الوكالة وصاحب الأموال التي لا يفنيها المحيط!

– يا خبر أسود!

– يا خبر أبيض، يا خبر مثل اللبن والقشدة …

Umm Hamida returned uickly to her flat. In the short distance from the wikalah5 to the flat her imagination grew intoxicated with wild dreams. She found Hamida standing in the middle of the room combing her hair: she examined her with piercing eyes as though she saw her for the first time, or as though she looked at an unusual ‘female’ — the woman who drove insane a man as venerable, as old and as rich as Mr. Selim Olwan. Umm Hamida was rocked by a strange emotion akin to jealousy … Fixing her eyes on her daughter she said:
– By Al-Hussein! you must’ve been born in the Night of Power!6
Hamida stopped combing her glossy black hair and asked with a laugh:
– What for? What’ve you got? What’s new?
The woman took off her milayah and flung it on the sofa. Quietly, with her eyes focused on Hamida’s face to see the impact of her words, she said:
– a new suitor.
In the black eyes a glint of interest and eagerness shone, mixed with surprise, as the girl wondered:
– It isn’t true!
– a suitor in a great position, not to come by in dreams, you daughter of a bitch! …
– Who could it be?
– Make a guess? …
– Who? …
– Mr. Selim Olwan, the great man, himself! …
– Selim Olwan who owns the Wikalah?
– He owns the Wikalah and as much money as no ocean can have?
– My Goodness!
– Say what a lovely piece of news, as white as milk and cream!
I have omitted only four descriptive statements from the dialogue at the places indicated by dots, which are more like ‘stage directions’, so as to keep the flow of the exchanges uninterrupted. Needless to say, the dialogue takes us down to the world of reality by echoing the language used by such characters in daily life: and many sentences are simply lifted from Egyptian Arabic, though they can be read, with inflexions, as classical. Mahfouz is doing here what Tewfiq El-Hakeem had done in picking up those Egyptian expressions which can if inflected be regarded as ‘correct’ — that is, according to the traditional grammar of classical Arabic — though he gets much ‘lower’ in his linguistic level than his great predecessor. Al-Hakeem would never say على سن ورمح a typical Egyptian expression implying distinction and power. It literally means “(raised high) on the tip of a spear”, and, though it does not exist (as far as I know) in the idiom of classical Arabic, it must have had a classical origin. Nor would Al-Hakeem use the concluding interchanges of خبر أسود (black piece of news) and خبر أبيض (white piece of news) with the common Egyptian play on the colour with reference to milk and cream. Though both are naturally averse to swear words, the ‘son of a bitch’ occurs in both, though more boldly and frequently, in Mahfouz. Again in the rendering of the scene Mahfouz does not hesitate to use an Egyptian word of a Greek origin كنبة (canapé) (cf. the etymology of our English canopy), or a word coined in Egypt and accepted by the Arabic language Academy (mula’ah) to mean a ‘bed sheet’, though the Egyptian version milayah refers to a square or a rectangular black cloth used by women in rural areas and in the poorer districts of the cities as an overdress — (they wrap themselves up in milayahs in fact). Nor does he hesitate to make use of the foreign expression ‘… eagerness mixed with surprise’ in trying for a more accurate description of the ‘glint’ in the girl’s eyes. Al-Midaq Alley was in more than one way an experiment in a new kind of language, and it was no coincidence that it was noticed by the redoubtable Taha Hussein himself, though the ‘master’ had one or two remarks to make about ‘slight mistakes in Arabic made by the young writer’.
But Al-Midaq Alley was only the beginning. Further refinement of the narrative style came with that unparalleled masterpiece Bedayah wa Nehayah (A Beginning and an End) which showed him a master of ‘atmosphere’, in the creation of which he relied on his reader’s knowledge of Egyptian Arabic and the Egyptian milieu. Thus, reference is continually made to a particular environment already well known to the reader: and a single word picked up from it could bring to life a whole scene which, however, changed from one reader’s imagination to another’s according to their various experiences of that particular scene. Modern standard Arabic had already had the sanction of the traditionalists in post-war Cairo, for all their objections to the innovations, and Mahfouz advanced with sure-footed ease to deal with all the levels of human experience in a language unused by his ancestors. The serialization of his next work Bayn Al-Qasrayn in Al-Risalah Al-Jadidah brought him to the attention of the remotest village in Egypt, as school children could read that novel without having to contend with the linguistic difficulties encountered in their Arabic lessons: Mahfouz became a household name.
Development continued in the 1960s with a different novel, namely The Thief and the Dogs, where his experimentation with the stream-of consciousness technique forced him to vary his language a little, as he discovered the rhetoric of ‘internal time’ and the importance of balancing his two time-scales — the internal against the external. He grew a little bolder in his use of ‘current’ written Arabic, attempting symbolism here and there but making use of the religious tradition in enhancing the suggestiveness of the thief’s dialogue with the holy man. His preoccupation with the role of religion in our thinking today, negatively or positively, made him ponder the way our very thinking in Arabic relies on the tradition of Islam and the concepts drawn from it. He wrote at the time an allegorical novel, Awlad Haretna (People of our Alley) translated in English as Children of Gabalawi, which was banned as soon as the similarities with the stories of revealed religions were spotted, and the ban was not lifted even after he had won the Nobel Prize in 1988. He prefers, however, to deal with this sensitive subject indirectly as he does in The Road and in the series of short stories which dominated the years 1963–1973. Though the language of the short story had been developed in many respects, and young writers now competed with Mahfouz for the laurels in this area, such as Yusuf Idris, to mention a more prominent name, further development was needed. When this came, it was not along the same lines (realism naturalism) but in the direction of symbolism.


There is no such a thing as a language of symbolism: only in poetry could we speak of a purely symbolic use of language — and very rarely so. Writing is a strange business and, being a writer myself, I was often puzzled by the accuracy which characterized Mahfouz’s use of his symbolic language. A story like Za’balawi fascinated our generation by its multi-layered linguistic structure, something which Mahfouz achieved through a combination of allegorical action and the connotative power of words. The amazing thing is that Mahfouz maintains the precise meanings of words throughout, setting his action in the realistic framework now closely associated with his work, so that an unsuspecting reader could get only the general symbolic impression without reference to any specific symbolic or allegorical terms. His economy here is also unprecedented: even in recounting the dream of paradise, a few lines seem to do the trick because they are carefully calculated to create the ultimate impression of earthly bliss in religious terms. This is done, I am sure, deliberately, for in these ten lines we have the symbolism finely spun in individual threads before being interwoven into the general realistic fabric of the action. Considering the significance of this feature of Mahfouz’s art, I believe I must quote at least part of that paragraph.

حلمت بأنني في حديقة لا حدود لها، تنتثر في جنباتها الأشجار بوفرة سخية، فلا ترى السماء إلا كالكواكب خلل أغصانها المتعانقة، ويكتنفها جو کالغروب أو كالغيم. وكنت مستلقيًا فوق هضبة من الياسمين المتساقط کالرذاذ، ورشاش نافورة صافٍ ينهل على رأسي وجبیني دون انقطاع …

I dreamt I was in a garden of unlimited vastness. There were trees on all sides, luxuriantly growing and so thick that only small patches of the sky appeared like stars through their intertwined branches. It was grey, as at sunset or as though it was an overcast day. I was reclining on a heap of jasmine petals that still fell like a drizzle around me, while a clear shower from a fountain came down incessantly upon my head and brow …
The contrast between this language and the rest of the story emphasizes the discrepancy between reality and illusion, if Za’balawi is to be interpreted in this way; but then the precision of the terms in which the dream is described shows that Mahfouz was not now a slave to the rhetoric of ancient Arabic, but that he could create his own rhetoric by using the same vocabulary though not the same idiom. It is thanks to this ability that Za’balawi, the mysterious character in the story, has been variously identified as God, the devil, art, illusion or thought, in spite of the fact that Mahfouz keeps reminding us that he is simply a ‘saint’ or a holy man. Being able to blur the contours of his ‘subject’ deliberately, by using words with specific meaning and ambiguous syntax, Mahfouz gives us a symbolic language hitherto unparalleled and unknown in Arabic.
In other short stories, the language of the press is boldly used, and modern standard Arabic finally comes into its own as a language of literature. a story in the same collection all his (The World of God), is entitled “(committed) by a person or persons unknown”, that is, “no criminal charge”. Before moving on to show how in 1974, a new language was developed, here is a specimen of this bold style:

وأكد الطبيب ابن القتيل أن والده لا يملك شيئًا ثمينًا على الإطلاق، وأن حسابه في البنك لا يتجاوز المائة جنيه وفرها لحاجة طارئة ثم أخرجته آخر الأمر … وجرى تحقيق دقيق مع البواب وأم أمينة، لكنه لم يؤدِّ إلى شيء، فأُفرج عنهما بلا ضمان … وجد ضابط المباحث نفسه في حيرة ضبابية، وعانى إحساسًا بالهزيمة لم يمر به من قبل …

(ضد مجهول)
The son of the victim, a physician, confirmed that his father owned nothing of value whatsoever, that his bank account didn’t exceed a hundred pounds saved for an emergency and for his funeral in the end … The porter and Umm Amina were carefully interrogated but as nothing came of it, they were ultimately released without bail. The detective superintendent was now utterly bewildered, and suffered a feeling of defeat never before experienced …
Only too natural, no doubt you’ll say, as these concepts are new to Arabic and they have to be expressed in this language; but then no one would have dared before Mahfouz to regard this subject — these ideas and these concepts — as fit for literature. The fact that he saw nothing in using the language of law (Gowers’s ‘legalese’) in the context of a literary work shows, finally and decisively, that a new rhetoric was born.
Now in Al-Karnak (1974) Mahfouz does something else. He does away with the conjunctions commonly used, universally I should say, in Arabic. He uses short sentences linked together only by inner logic, either of sequence or of causality, in the same way he uses short chapters each given the name of a character before bringing them all together as the threads of the plot are interwoven. To this method I can trace the later technique used in such a masterpiece as The Day the Leader was killed (1985) — as well as later in Talk of the Morning and the Evening and a Very Good Morning to You which I have elsewhere described as akin to that of the ‘plastic’ arts. This may be identified as follows: the thought-processes of the character narrating each chapter are reflected in changing syntactical patterns; though Mahfouz manipulates the narrative stream to focus on ‘patches of consciousness’ of special significance to the novel as a whole. The shifting of these ‘patches’ is often done in an ‘impressionistic’ manner so as to produce a cumulative effect, regardless of the discursive content or the emotional substance of the experience. I have described this stage in the work of Naguib Mahfouz as ‘experimental’, but the mature works produced point unequivocally to success. The experiment began, I have said, with Al-Karnak and, as I have often done in this essay, I shall take my example from the first page, the opening lines themselves:

اهتديت إلى مقهى الكرنك مصادفة. ذهبت يومًا إلى شارع المهدي لإصلاح ساعتي. تطلَّب الإصلاح بضع ساعات كان عليَّ أن أنتظرها. قررت مهادنة الوقت في مشاهدة الساعات والحلي والتحف التي تعرضها الدكاكين على الصفَّين. عثرت على المقهى في تنقُّلي فقصدته. ومنذ تلك الساعة صار مجلسي المفضَّل. رغم صغره وانزوائه في شارع جانبي صار مجلسي المفضَّل.

I was guided to Al-Karnak café by chance. One day I went to Al-Mahdy street to have my watch mended. The mending required a few hours and I had to wait. I decided to beguile the time by looking at the watches, jewelry and bric-a-brac offered by the shops on either side. I found that café as I moved from one place to another and headed for it. It has been my favourite place ever since; though small, and tucked away in a sidestreet, it has become my favourite place.
The initial sentence, shorter than usual, has the deliberately paradoxical initial verb ‘guided’, which is connected in the Arabic heritage with finding one’s way back to God, or, at least, with mending one’s ways, but is used to indicate the opposite here. Mahfouz could have said ‘discovered’, ‘came across’ or simply ‘found’ (the first is closer to the meaning intended), but he gives us this emotionally charged word on purpose in a quick-moving sentence, almost like rifle bullets, only to qualify it in the subsequent sentences by providing a context which naturally leads to a different verb at the beginning of the fifth sentence. But the choice of the idea of ‘guidance’ is hardly haphazard: it is first echoed in the name of the street ‘Al-Mahdy’ which means the ‘guided’ and, in our tradition, ‘a holy man who guides the multitude’. Then the echoes proliferate: the ‘mending’ of the watch is a play on the mending of one’s way whilst, at the same time, suggesting a play on the word ‘watch’ which is the same in Arabic for ‘hour’. The theme of putting right a time that is ‘out of joint’ is therefore suggested deliberately to suggest the opposite. But the idea of guidance recurs in the word ‘mending’ in the third sentence, a word which, in Arabic, clearly suggests the idea of ‘piety’ or ‘benignity’ or ‘good work’ (الصلاح الإصلاح) then the theme of charming the time literally ‘observing a truce with time’ recurs in the fourth sentence to further confirm the paradox as he would have peace with time by watching a timepiece. That he would be going back in time is now fully suggested, albeit obliquely, but the word-play elsewhere, a reversed feature of the ‘grand style’ (cf. C. Rick’s Milton’s Grand Style) is quite common as a means of enhancing the ‘suggestiveness of the language (of verse and prose alike). The fifth sentence begins, I have said, with a different verb ‘found’ but, more importantly, it ensures that the protagonist came upon that cafe in the context of movement in place, so that for a moment at least we feel that a movement back in time could be done only when spatial movement is arrested. Hence the insistence in the following sentences, the sixth and the seventh, that it is now his favourite ‘place of rest’. We almost come full circle now to the original ‘guided’: for in a very peculiar sense the protagonist seems ‘destined’ (guided by destiny) to land on that ‘spot of time’, secluded and ‘tucked away’ from the general stream of life outside. The rest of the paragraph clinches the point:

الحق أنني ترددت قليلًا بادئ الأمر أمام مدخله، حتى لمحت فوق كرسي الإدارة امرأةً؛ امرأة دانية الشيخوخة ولكنها محافظة على أثر جمال مندثِر. حركت قسماتها الدقيقة الواضحة جذور ذاكرتي فتفجرت ينابيع الذكريات. سمعت عزفًا وطبلًا، شممت بخورًا. رأيت جسدًا يتموج. راقصة. نجمة عماد الدين. الراقصة قرنفلة. حلم الأربعينيات الوردي قرنفلة.

The fact is that I hesitated a little, at first, at the entrance, until I spotted a woman sitting at the manager’s desk, a woman approaching old age but with traces of her fading beauty preserved. Her well-defined and clear-cut features stirred the depths of my memory so that images of the past gushed forth. I heard music, I smelt incense, I saw a body swaying a dancer: the star of Imad el-Din Street, Qurunfulah the dancer, the rosy dream of the forties, Qurunfulah.
The apparently regular syntax of the opening snetence almost reflects the hesitation, with the three consecutive prepositional phrases interrupting the flow of the idea even while reinforcing it. But the ‘figure at the centre’ turns in the latter part of the sentence into a time figure’ as the contrast between her approaching old age and her youthful beauty as preserved more in the mind of the protagonist than in her features causes the past to come alive again. And it comes alive in the deliberately symmetrical ‘I heard …, I smelt …, I saw …’ (echoing ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’). These are, however, followed by a flurry of nominal structures which, being in apposition to the ‘swaying body’ quickly build up into the image of Qurunfulah (literally, the carnation) retrieved from the depth of subjective time.
The trick used here is almost purely syntactical as the nominal structures are designed to suspend all action, and with-it time, so as to focus the reader’s attention on the image from the past now being looked at outside time. It is through the alternation of verbal and nominal structures, carefully balanced at first but now flowing into each other, that the writer’s intended effect is achieved.


More than a decade later, The Day the Leader was killed further developed this new use of language. I have made a bold statement, above, regarding the ‘impressionism’ of this later style which now needs illustration: the basic qualities of the language have been tentatively defined, and the changing syntactic patterns have been said to reflect “patches of consciousness” akin to the patches of colour on a canvas where the contours are deliberately blurred. In this novel Mahfouz attempts a further innovation: he uses the present tense to relate past events so as to create a sense of immediacy, but the ‘conflict’ of tenses helps not the immediacy but the blurring of contours. The passage which, I believe, illustrates this best occurs at the end of chapter IV where Mohtashemi Zayed concludes a stream-of consciousness account of the morning scene at home, but I shall begin by giving the usual sample from the opening lines:

نوم قليل وفترة انتظار ثملة بالدفء تحت الغطاء الثقيل. النافذة تنضح بضياء خفيف ولكنه يتجلى بقوة في ظلام الحجرة الدامس. اللهم إني أنام بأمرك وأصحو بأمرك وإنك مالك كل شيء. ها هو أذان الفجر يفتح يومي الجديد، ويسبح في بحر الصمت الشامل هاتفًا باسمك. اللهم عونك لهجر حنان الفراش والخروج إلى قسوة برد هذا الشتاء الطويل.

A little sleep and warmth-drunk moments of waiting under the heavy cover. The window is suffused with a subtle light which still shines bright in the pitch darkness of the room. O Allah! I go to sleep at your command and wake up at your command: to you belongs all. That is now the call to the dawn-prayer opening my new day, with the words swimming in the all-embracing sea of silence, chanting your name. O Allah! help me to abandon the kindness of bed and venture forth in the cruel cold of this long winter.
The first sentence is, as is now common in Mahfouz, without a finite verb, with the opening words sufficiently ambiguous to create the mood needed. ‘A little sleep’, as transferred from the Egyptian dialect, means ‘I sleep but little at night’; but in this context it is open to interpretation. Does it mean ‘let me have a little sleep’, or ‘I have had a little sleep’? The meaning is not decided by the grammar because Mahfouz has given us a long subject without a predicate. The next words in the same sentence give a transferred epithet — a figure simply covered by traditional metaphor in classical Arabic but is quite new in our modern language. Of particular interest here is the use of ellipsis, so characteristic of the ancient narrative yet so rare in modern Arabic; for only in the fifth sentence do we hear of ‘bed’, of the man about to leave it. Indeed, there is no indication whatsoever that the initial sentence refers to the speaker at all: and it is the lack of verbs (of any ‘kind’) rather than the absence of a pronoun indicating the speaker (for a ‘speaker’ must always be assumed) that ensures the ambiguity.
Now the use of the present tense throughout is meant to transform the action from a temporal to a spatial performance, that is, making it more akin to a painting than to a musical note. The second sentence gives us this impression at once: a painting almost in the Chairoscuro tradition where light and shade play against each other. a crucial word in the first sentence, ‘waiting’, which confirms the ambiguity (in so far as an old man of over eighty, as we soon find out, can be waiting for nothing too important, if not for death) suspends our sense of time to allow for the spatial dimensions of the scene to emerge: To this end, the time sequence of the ‘morning scene’ is quietly reversed for, as every Muslim knows, the call for the dawn prayer is made a long time before any light can ‘suffuse’ the Eastern sky, not to say the bedroom window. By implying, therefore, that the ‘subtle light’ in the window is that of the new day, the writer is ‘blurring’ the time contours of the scene so as to stress its spatial character; and by punctuating the sequence with the doxology and the invocation to Allah, he succeeds in making the scene reflect a state of mind rather than objective reality — As such the light in the window and the all-embracing sea of silence outside wherein the words of the muezzin swim will be representative of psychological rather than objective facts.
Another linguistic trick is the substitution of weak-mood verbs for the expected verbs in the indicative mood. Instead of telling us that he left the kind bed and ventured forth into the cruel cold, the protagonist says a short prayer, invoking God’s help to do so. We soon find out that he did so when in the next sentences we know that he is now groping in the dark, then performing the ‘rites of ablution’ preparatory to performing the dawn prayers. Again, these two actions are not expressed in the indicative mood, the second being an exclamation “how cold this ablution water is”, the first being in the imperative, “Let me grope my way in the dark!”.
Let us now look at the passage which occurs at the end of chapter IV which I have said best illustrates the new techniques of Mahfouz. I shall give it, a whole paragraph, with a modicum of comment, as I believe it speaks for itself:

وتعود الوحدة. أتمشى في الشقة بعد تعذر المشي في الشارع. القرآن والأغاني. طوبى لكم يا من اخترعتم الراديو والتليفزيون. بامية ومكرونة على الغداء. حبب الله إليَّ العبادة، وجعل قرة عيني في الطعام. أي وحدة والكون من حولي مكتظ بملايين من الأرواح؟ أحب الحياة وأرحب بالموت في حينه. كم من تلميذ قديم لي صار اليوم وزيرًا. لا رهبانية في الإسلام. ما مثلي ومثل الدنيا إلا كراكبٍ سار في يوم صائف، فاستظل تحت شجرة ساعةً من نهار، ثم راح وتركها. كثيرًا ما أحادث حفيدي عن الماضي لعله من حيرته يخرج. أُغريه بالقراءة وقليلًا ما يقرأ. ويستمع إليَّ بدهشة من يعز التصديق عليه. دعنا من علياء سميح ومحمود المحروقي. ألم تحملك الأحداث على الإيمان بالوطن والديمقراطية؟ وما معنى الإصرار على التمسك ببطل منهزم راحل؟! کی لا تصبح الدنيا فراغًا يا جدي. إني ألفت نظرك إلى أشياء في غاية الجمال. يضحك ويقول لي: ما أريد الآن إلا شقة ومهرًا مناسبًا!

كيف أستطيع تجنب هموم الدنيا ومعي حفيدي المحبوب؟ ما أجمل كرامات الأولياء!

Loneliness returns. I walk about in the flat now that I can no longer walk in the street. Qur’an (chanting) and songs. Blessed ye be who invented radio and television. Okra and macaroni for lunch. Allah made me love worship and made eating a great pleasure for me. What loneliness (could I speak of) when the universe about me is crowded with millions of souls? I love life and welcome a timely death. Many an old student of mine is now a government minister. There is no monastic unworldliness in Islam. I traverse the world like a mounted traveller on a (hot) summer day who, having spent an hour in the (cool) shade of a tree departs and leaves it (all) behind. I often talk to my beloved grandson about the past, to help him out of his perplexity. I tempt him to read but he reads very little and listens in amazement to me as though he finds it hard to believe me. Let’s forget about Alia’ Samih and Mahmoud Al-Mahrouqi; haven’t (recent) events nourished your faith in the homeland and in democracy? Is there any sense in clinging to (the image of) a departed, defeated hero? Well, grandfather, I must; otherwise the world will turn into a void. But I draw your attention to exceedingly beautiful things. He laughs and says to me:
– All I want now is a flat and a reasonable dowry to pay!
How can I avoid the worries of this world when this beloved grandson (lives) with me? Oh, what wonderful miracles saints perform!
Apart from the obvious stream-of-consciousness technique, and the sustained use of the present tense which ensures the ‘spatial’ rendering of the action, Mahfouz maintains the ‘tone’ of the old man’s thought processes by drawing on the rich imagery of classical Arabic as it lives in our religious tradition. The wording and the structure of key, sentences are redolent of the tones of ancient sermons and religious musings while others are directly taken from the Egyptian vernacular. And the mixing is done so masterfully as to appear almost natural to the modern reader—as natural, in fact, as the coupling of ‘Quran and songs’ in the third sentence, and the anticlimactic “Blessed ye.. radio and TV”! The vernacular tone is to be heard in fact as early as the second sentence when (أتمشى) ‘I walk about’ is used in the common Egyptian sense of having a walk, a strol to saunter rather than to head for a place deliberately while ‘to walk’ in the same sentence has the double sense of ‘it is impossible for me on account of my old age to walk in the street’ and ‘it is difficult for people to walk in the stree because of over-crowdedness’. The latter sense is not far-fetched, though I have opted for the first in the translation; for soon the over crowdedness is plainly stated and made to contrast with his loneliness. And just as the ideas of okra and macaroni come naturally to his mind, the latter an Italian word, the former apparently Indian, the typically classical قرة عيني (the coolness of my eye, or it cools my eye, which is more or less equivalent to ‘warms the cockles of my heart’) is used in the next sentence with a reference to a famous tradition by the Prophet. Examples of such a mixing can be multiplied without difficulty.
A final word is necessary, however, on the effective use of ellipsis. a perfectly acceptable principle of Arabic style in fact a distinguishing quality), ellipsis is to be found at its best in the Quran. It is used here, however, as a means of establishing the abrupt transitions between one thought and the next. The bracketed words in my translation represent omissions which are natural enough to supply in any translation (I would’ve added many more) but they still restrict the meaning of the elliptical structures. Take the third sentence: “Quran (chanting) and songs” two items of ‘sound’ that both radio and television broadcast, and may be broadcasting now on different channels. He obviously sees no contradiction between worship and enjoying the pleasures of this world as exemplified in singing and eating. The ellipsis here functions therefore as a device of creating an ambiguity which is, however, soon dispelled. Throughout it helps to establish contrast between seemingly opposite ideas but which, on a closer examination, will be found to be hardly contradictory at all. The recurrent references, for isntance, to religion in the first part of the paragraph disappear in the second when his relationship with his grandson and their conversation are recalled; but the idea surfaces once more at the very end.


(1) A month in the Coptic calendar roughly corresponding to May.
(2) The rule in classical Arabic is to generate a new word by repeating the first consonant after the second in a 3–letter root word, if the last two consonants are similar. Thus Qazza (root Qazaza) gives birth to qazqaza; Habba (hababa) to habhaba; balla (balala) to balbala and so on.
قز ← قزقز، هب ← هبهب، بل ← بلبل … إلخ.
(3) F.C. Scott, English Grammar, Heinemann, London, 1976.
(4) It is possible, of course, to suggest alternative patterns of subordination.
(5) An old Cairene roofed wholesale marketplace, with the owner acting as an agent for tradesmen, hence the literal meaning of the wordagency.
(6) The night in Ramadan when the first verses of the Quran were revealed. Prayers on that night are popularly believed to fulfil any wish.

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