cover image Autumn Quail

Autumn Quail

Naguib Mahfouz. Doubleday Books, $19.95 (172pp) ISBN 978-0-385-26453-2

Set during the Egyptian revolution of 1952 and the years immediately following, this 1962 novel by the Nobel laureate focuses on Isa, a senior civil servant during the last days of the monarchy, pensioned off after the upheaval for having taken bribes. ``Although my mind is sometimes convinced by the revolution, my heart is always with the past. I just don't know if there can be any settlement between the two,'' says Isa, who abides his own peculiar moral code. Refusing to join his hypocritical friends in kowtowing to the new regime, he spurns the connections offered by his cousin Hasan, a key player in the infant republic, and becomes a nonentity; Hasan subsequently wins the hand of Isa's fiancee, Salwa, whose influential father and whose ``sweet gentle expression that showed not only a kindly temperament but also an almost total lack of intelligence or warmth'' makes her a coveted commodity. Isa's perhaps honorable career choice is later counterpointed by his despicable treatment of a prostitute whom he impregnatedpk , and of his barren wife. As translator Allen admits, the novel suffers from a falsely optimistic, contrived ending (Mahfouz may have been pleasing the ``official cultural sector'' to which he himself belonged) and from its coverage of an extended, four-year time period. (Aug.)