This was the first piece of Egyptian writing I've read, and I was attracted to it by the cover notes which explained that Mahfouz had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but I found it disappointing.
It begins with a compelling portrait of Amima, who lives her entire married life according to the zealous religious strictures of her husband, Ahmed Abd al-Jawad. He imposes strict Muslim observances on all the females of his family through the power of his bullying personality, but he himself spends each night drinking and whoring.
Despite a truly awful translation, the early part of the novel succeeded in conveying the claustrophobic life the women lead. Denied access to education, to the news, to books other than the Qur'an, Amima is depicted as gaining satisfaction from serving her husband and accepting the limitations of her life. Her subservience to this hypocritical tyrant is appalling to a modern woman!
Perhaps the laboured prose and the repetitious quotations from the Qur'an are part of the style of Egyptian literature, but the book seems overlong. It was interesting to read the Egyptian perspective on the Australian occupation during WW1 (extremely negative) and on the postwar demonstrations to end the British Protectorate, but the bawdy flirtations and obscure dialogues of Ahmad and his women were tedious. The scene when Yasin, Ahmad's thoroughly unpleasant younger son, rapes his wife's servant is repellent in the extreme. The writer treats the victim as Yasin does, of no consequence whatsoever - and the imputation that Yasin's wife is insulted all the more because the servant is black is downright offensive.
Was all this meant to be ironic? An expose of these hypocrises? I couldn't tell...
I read and journalled this book on 10 January 1997.
Cross posted at Good Reads