Naguib Mafouz, one of my favorite authors, died this past week. I am sad. An Egyptian writer, he closely observed his friends, family, neighborhood, and country along multiple dimensions. Mahfouz had an eye for detail that included but went beyond simple sensual description to make his readers feel the universality of life and along the way, empathy, humanity, and acceptance. But even better, he wrote page turners. The three books of The Cairo Trilogy are among the most absorbing books I've ever read. I thought about the people he described after I finished each of them. I wondered what they would do in certain situations. I visualized their comings and goings to and from the houses, cafes, markets, stores, and the Souks of their world. I have these images still settled in my mind to pull up at a moment's notice, as I do for so many really great books I've read. I became a part of these books and they became a part of me.
I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in an Arab country in the late 60s. I discovered amazing warmth and generosity among the people I met and knew. Those experiences made me love his books even more. I knew, from my own insights, that he was telling the truth. And the truth was sensuous, alluring, mysterious, challenging, and an invitation, generously extended, to learn and understand. He never brushed aside differences or weaknesses or for that matter, strengths.
George Bush said, "Mahfouz was a cultural light. . . who brought Arab literature to the world. . . and expressed values of enlightenment and tolerance." I can only dare to hope, and pray, that Mr. Bush has read or is now reading Mahfouz' works.
technorati: Boomers, Peace Corps, books, Arab Literature