Thank the literary stars and bless the heavens. Proper recognition, long overdue, has finally been bestowed upon Naguib Mahfouz, the highly talented Egyptian novelist. With the presentation of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Nobel committee has taken a giant step forward in acknowledging the richness of Egyptian, and, especially, Arabic literature, which has been alive and well for centuries, but virtually ignored abroad, particularly in the United States.
In 1981, I received a research grant from USC and the Department of Education to travel to Cairo. My research explored the significant role that Egyptian novels have played in the changing and often baffling direction of Egyptian society. The name most often mentioned in any literary discussion of note was always Naguib Mahfouz. And he was revered by the Egyptians for dealing with the country's dilemmas and contradictions without reservation, mirroring society through his many novels.
Upon my return to the United States, I found, somewhat forlornly, how difficult it was to obtain his works here. (Unfortunately, this is still the case.) However, I was able to contact Three Continents Press in Washington, D.C., who shipped out the required copies of "Midaq Alley." I think the students enjoyed delving into the back alleys and culture of Cairo just as much as their teacher. What a new world they discovered in the words of his creative hand and what a cultural experience they gained from their campus in Glendale. Suddenly, Egypt wasn't quite so far away, and the universality of human existence and material want was vividly brought home to them.
Thank you, Naguib Mahfouz, for your work as social critic, satirist, and literary artist. You have no idea how many lives you've touched in this tiny corner of the globe. All we can hope for now is a new awakening and a wider acceptance for those writers of Arabic literature.
May you find peace and joy in the Nobel committee's recent decision to honor you for your lifetime's work.