This course will introduce students to the fiction of Egypt’s Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006). Mahfouz was the author of 35 novels, over 350 short stories, a dozen movie scripts and five plays. He lived through most of the major political events of the 20th century in Egypt: the age of high British colonialism, the 1919 and 1952 revolutions, the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973 and the ‘open door’ years; the profound social and economic transformations of the 1980s beginning with the regime of President Anwar al-Sadat. Mahfouz wrote about most of these events from the perspective of everyday individuals struggling to cope with social change on an unprecedented scale. The themes he dealt with in his work range from the conflict between tradition and modernity, faith and freedom, ambition and social mobility and the existential crisis of the individual in the face of a corrupt and suffocating society. The scope of his storytelling and the loving detail with which he painted the many worlds of modern Egyptian society have earned him the status of Egypt’s greatest novelist. Many of his novels were made into films that have become classics of Egyptian cinema. We will read three of his novels over the course of the semester, paired with clips and full versions of the films that were adapted from his work, as well as historical and biographical material and documentary film.
Students will come out of this course with a solid working knowledge of the major trends in Egypt’s modern cultural and political history, including the impact of colonialism, authoritarianism and neo-liberalism; the changing attitudes towards women, and the conflict between secularism and political Islam. They will become familiar with the broad range of Mahfouz’ work and gain insight into the enduring narrative of Egyptian identity that he constructed through his novels. Students will also explore the differences between literature and film as narrative genres and how they can be put to different cultural uses in the same social context.