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Authors: Naguib Mahfouz

Cairo Modern

BOOK: Cairo Modern

Naguib Mahfouz was one of the most prominent writers of Arabic fiction in the twentieth century. He was born in 1911 in Cairo and began writing at the age of seventeen. His first novel was published in 1939. Throughout his career, he wrote nearly forty novel-length works and hundreds of short stories. In 1988 Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died in 2006.

William M. Hutchins is the principal translator of Naguib Mahfouz’s
Cairo Trilogy
, and has most recently translated Mohammed Khudayyir’s
and Fadhil al-Azzawi’s
The Last of the Angels
Cell-Block Five.


The Beggar, The Thief and the Dogs, Autumn Quail
(omnibus edition)

Respected Sir, Wedding Song, The Search
(omnibus edition)

The Beginning and the End

The Time and the Place and Other Stories

Midaq Alley

The Journey of Ibn Fattouma


Adrift on the Nile

The Harafish

Arabian Nights and Days

Children of the Alley

Echoes of an Autobiography

The Day the Leader Was Killed

Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth

Voices from the Other World

Khufu’s Wisdom

Rhadopis of Nubia

Thebes at War

Seventh Heaven

The Thief and the Dogs

Karnak Café

Morning and Evening Talk

The Dreams

The Cairo Trilogy:

Palace Walk

Palace of Desire

Sugar Street


Copyright © 1945 by Naguib Mahfouz
First published in Arabic in 1945 as
al-Qahira al-jadida
English translation copyright © 2008 by William M. Hutchins

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo and New York, in 2008.

Anchor Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress.

eISBN: 978-0-307-78085-0



he sun had begun a slow descent from its heavenly apogee, and over the university’s magnificent dome its disc appeared to be bursting into the sky or returning from its rounds. It flooded treetops, verdant earth, silver-walled buildings, and the great avenue running through the Orman Gardens with rays gentled by frigid January, which had tempered their flame and infused them with benign compassion. Standing at the head of two rows of lofty trees lining the avenue, the dome resembled a god before whom worshipful priests kneel for afternoon prayer. The sky was clear except for some thin, far-flung clouds at the horizon. A chill breeze shook the trees, and their leaves responded with moans and sighs.

Bewildered kites circled overhead and down below—engrossed in separate discussions—groups of students walked along, spilling from the university campus onto the avenue. Then, in the midst of these young men, appeared a group of no more than five female students who advanced diffidently, exchanging confidences. The presence of women at the university was still a novelty that evoked interest and curiosity, especially among the first-year students, who began to exchange glances as they whispered to each other, although their voices occasionally rose loud enough to reach their comrades’ ears.

A student asked, “Doesn’t even one of them have a face worth seeing?”

Another answered rather sarcastically, “They’re ambassadors of learning, not of passion.”

A third remarked with censorious zeal as he examined the appearance of the spindly young women, “But God created them to be ambassadors of passion!”

The first youth guffawed and—motivated by a spirit of mischievous defiance—observed, “Remember we’re at the university, a place where you’re not allowed to mention God or passion.”

“It’s very logical that God wouldn’t be mentioned, but passion?”

One of them responded in a reportorial tone more professional than scholarly, “This university is God’s enemy, not nature’s.”

“What you say is true and you derive no pleasure from their sickening appearance, but this is merely the first installment of the fair sex. They’ll be followed by others. The university is a new trend that will soon catch on among females. If you keep your eyes on tomorrow, it won’t be long in coming.”

“Do you think young women will accept the university as readily as they have the cinema, for example?”

“More readily. You’ll see young women here quite unlike this sorry lot.”

“And they’ll press against the young men mercilessly.”

“Mercy in such circumstances would be reprehensible.”

“They won’t try to behave, because a strong person doesn’t bother to be well behaved.”

“Perhaps passions will flare up between the two sexes.”

“How beautiful that would be!”

“Consider the trees and the thickets: love arises there as spontaneously as maggots in jars of mish cheese.”

“My Lord! Will we live to see this happy age?”

“You’ll be able to wait for it if you choose.”

“We’re just starting and the future is dazzling.”

Having finished their general comments, they began to analyze the girls individually with bitter mockery and stinging sarcasm.

Four young men walked along together slowly. They were also conversing and had probably listened with interest to the prattle of the other students. These were final year students who were almost twenty-four, and their faces shone with pride in their maturity and learning. They were not blind to their importance—or put more precisely—they were inordinately conscious of it.

Ma’mun Radwan remarked critically, “All boys talk about is girls.”

Ali Taha responded to his companion’s critique, “What’s wrong with that? We’re two halves of a whole and have been seeking each other since eternity.”

Mahgub Abd al-Da’im commented, “Don’t hold it against them, Mr. Ma’mun. It’s Thursday, and for male students Thursday is always a day to enjoy the ladies.”

Ahmad Badir, who was both a student and a journalist, smiled gently and declared oratorically, “Brothers, I invite you to state your ideas about women in a few brief words. What do you say, Mr. Ma’mun Radwan?”

The young man was perplexed. Then he smiled and asked, “Are you trying to tempt me into the type of discussion I’ve criticized?”

“Don’t try to squirm out of it. Come on. Just a few words. I’m a journalist, and a journalist never wearies of discussion.”

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