cover image The Wedding Song

The Wedding Song

Naguib Mahfouz, Najib Mahfuz. Doubleday Books, $16.95 (174pp) ISBN 978-0-385-26463-1

A new play is the talk of Cairo. Through the script, the author, a young unknown named Abbas Karam Younis, seems to implicate himself in the death of his ailing wife and the disclosure to the police of his mother, a prostitute, and his father, a gambler. Then Abbas mysteriously vanishes, leaving behind a suicide note but no corpse. Previously published here in a limited edition, this 1981 novel by the Egyptian Nobel laureate adopts the Faulkneresque device of employing a different character to narrate each chapter. All four accounts are marked by a deft blend of everyday details of Cairo life and compelling, stream-of-consciousness monologues. ``Abbas could never betray his mother,'' she muses at one point. ``He may have scorned everything else, but not my love. Love is stronger than evil itself.'' Throughout, Mahfouz probes the nature of art: what is real, what is fantasy. ``A play is just a play. Nothing more,'' one character says. ``Otherwise, the law would have the right to put ninety percent of our authors in the prisoner's dock.'' This transcendent book is evidence of how well Mahfouz's penetrating stories travel across cultural borders. (Oct.)