cover image Sugar Street

Sugar Street

Naguib Mahfouz, Najib Mahfuz. Doubleday Books, $22.5 (308pp) ISBN 978-0-385-26469-3

Nobel Prize winner Mahfouz's stunning portrait of a family in dissolution (first published in 1957) mirrors an Egypt trying to plunge into the modern world but beset by colonialism, a rigid class system and political oppression. The third volume of his Cairo Trilogy, the novel opens in 1935 as Egypt smolders under British occupation, and it extends through the war. Kamal, son of the gaunt, wasted patriarch, is a grade-school teacher and philosopher who veers between lusty debauches and reading Spinoza. One of his nephews, Abd Al-Muni'm, becomes a Muslim fundamentalist; another nephew, Ahmad, takes Marx as his prophet. These two diametrically opposed brothers will share the same fate--a jail cell. The inadvertent cause of their undoing may be another scion of the patriarch, young Ridwan, a closet homosexual whose liaison with a prominent politician apparently backfires. Tragedy, in this busy family drama, can mean anything from marrying below one's station to a massacre of protesters by English constables and Egyptian soldiers. Mahfouz's characters blaze with intensity, his Egypt pulsates with unresolved tensions. (Jan.)