With the passing away of Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt‘s Nobel laureate, the literary world has lost an entire epoch. This 94-year-old writer wasn’t only a pillar of Arabic literature, but the central figure who brought this literature on to the world stage. Someone influenced as much by his Islamic mother’s tolerance for all humanity as by the ancient history of his country, his writing corpus matches the vastness of Egypt‘s heritage. From the reigns of pharaohs to the socio-political state of modern-day Egypt, Mahfouz’s writing captured the entire gamut of this ancient and vibrant culture. A writer who deeply loved his land and never stepped out of it, not even to attend the Nobel ceremony in 1988, his vision was never constrained by any man-made boundaries—geographical or otherwise.
My position on everything I have read throughout my life — and my readings include the Ancient Egyptian and Arabic heritage as well as English and French creative works — was, as far as possible, a neutral, unbiased, one. This in the sense that all these cultures are, in the last analysis, human cultures, produced by man, and I am as entitled to the English [literary] heritage as I am to the Pharaonic heritage. In other words, all these cultures belong to me in my capacity as a human being. And if you were to ask me to enumerate my favourite works in order, you might find among them an Ancient Egyptian work, a French one, a third that is Arabic and a fourth that is English. When I read I allow my self to love what seems worthy of love, regardless of nationality.
~ Naguib Mahfouz, in an interview with Ibrahim Mansour
More on Mahfouz in Egypt’s Al-Ahram Weekly.