cover image The Search

The Search

Naguib Mahfouz, Najib Mahfuz. Doubleday Books, $20 (133pp) ISBN 978-0-385-26459-4

A lesser effort by Nobel laureate Mahfouz (the Cairo Trilogy), this 1964 novel is an indictment of what the author sees as the erosion of morality in post-revolution Egypt. The imprisonment and financial ruin of Basima, a prostitute, lead to her premature demise. Her spoiled son, Saber, a good-for-nothing playboy, is now in a pickle (``I must either work or kill''), so he follows his mother's deathbed instructions and searches for the father he thought was deceased, hoping to leech onto him and thus maintain the high standard of living to which he has grown accustomed. He moves from Alexandria to Cairo, where he advertises in the newspaper for his father who continually eludes him, and leads a duplicitous existence with two women. Gentle, naive Elham, a clerk at the newspaper's ad office, falls in love with Saber. But Saber, in turn, lusts for Karima, a manipulative woman married to Saber's landlord, who is many years her senior. Karima perfectly fits the whore's son's picture of the opposite sex: ``They were beautiful, savage beings looking for love and passion, without principles or scruples.'' With overwrought plot and prose, Mahfouz delineates Saber and Karima's obviously doomed scheme to murder the landlord, take the money and run. (June)