cover image Palace Walk

Palace Walk

Naguib Mahfouz. Doubleday Books, $22.95 (498pp) ISBN 978-0-385-26465-5

Set in Cairo around the end of World War I, as Egypt, a British protectorate, clamors for independence, 1988 Nobel Prize-winner Mahfouz's epic family drama explores deep fissures in the patriarchal structure of one household. Prosperous merchant Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, a tyrant at home, roams Cairo's tawdry entertainment district by night seeking illicit pleasures. His submissive wife Amina is chained to the house; he throws her out on the street after she commits the sin of going outdoors for a walk. His two daughters constantly bicker, and his three sons are beyond his control: Yasin commits sexual assaults on servants; Fahmy becomes an activist in the nationalist movement, while Kamal befriends British soldiers. The first volume in Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy (1956-57), this dense novel charts an Egypt lurching into the modern age. Mahfouz is a master at building up dramatic scenes and at portraying complex characters in depth. (Jan.)