It must be something to die at the age of 94. I first encountered Mahfouz’s writing at the suggestion of a woman I was infatuated with. Sadly, the infatuation never amounted to anything substantive, but she asked me if I had read his work — I hadn’t — and pronounced “Mahfouz” with a slight lisp. Enough to make my buy the first volume of the Palace Walk trilogy.
The books were engrossing and sweeping in their run through Egyptian history and society during the time of independence and rise of Arab nationalism. They were also filled with offensive and brutish characters that disturbed my liberal arts educated sensibilities, something I often find true about the world today. I couldn’t put the books down.
I never delved further into Mahfouz’s life, but instead I would from time to time read of his lifestyle — a true cafe intellectual, comfortable in his home city, holding forth late into the night, enjoying the people around him. I don’t know if he slept much, but he seemed to maximize his enjoyment of the city. I suppose that kind of true writer/intellectual/hedonist? is a rare creature these days. Afer all, anyone can do the same thing now, right? That’s what we’re told by the large bookstore chains, but sipping a $4 coffee from organic Kenyan beans, peering over your Apple laptop with a stack of new releases (and a classic novel) beside you doesn’t hardly qualify. He was the real thing