cover image Echoes of an Autobiography

Echoes of an Autobiography

Naguib Mahfouz. Doubleday Books, $19.95 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-385-48555-5

Mahfouz's first nonfiction book to be published in English, this mosaic of autobiographical vignettes, reflections, allegories, childhood memories, dream visions and Sufi-like spiritual maxims and paradoxes is a deep pool of wisdom that confirms his stature as a writer of universal appeal. These short forms seem to come naturally to the Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian novelist, a master of chiseled prose, pithy observations and devastating asides. As the title suggests, this compilation echoes his recurring themes: the common humanity of rich and poor, the redemptive power of love, the transitoriness of happiness, the yearning of salvation, and how our inevitable destiny, death, unconsciously molds our strivings and search for meaning. In her introductory essay, Gordimer defends Mahfouz against feminists who attack his depiction of women characters, arguing that he accurately portrays the oppression of women in his society. By contrast, the women in these parables and sketches, though often impersonally observed, are symbols of spiritual release, radiant joy, beauty and freedom. There are scattered, veiled political echoes, too, as in the first-person portrait of an elementary school pupil who secretly longs for anarchy and revolution. (Dec.)