Click here to read reviewer Deborah Adams' take on Cairo Modern.
In Cairo Modern, Naguib Mahfouz follows the lives of a group of friends at the university in 1930s Egypt. Some are from prominent families, some are brilliant, some are handsome, some are none of these things. The book focuses on the life of Mahgub Abd al-Da'im, a desperately poor student determined to make his way in life.
After much privation, Mahgub manages to get his degree, but much to his dismay, any jobs are given out only on a patronage basis. Mahgub has no one to serve as his patron.
He contacts anyone he knows even slightly, hoping to find a job that will allow him to escape the poverty he has known his whole life. Finally he is offered a job, but it comes with a price: an influential rich man needs someone to marry his mistress. Mahgub swallows his pride and marries the woman.
This humiliating situation leads to his first job, one in which he receives respect and more money than he has ever had in his possession. The price he pays
- a sundering of his ideals and cutting ties with his college friends - is one he regards as a viable solution. In fact, he determines that he will not be tied down by any ideals, not friendship
nor family ties nor any kind of morality. The book follows the outcome of Mahgub's decision as it plays out in his life. After initial success, he is totally defeated when he is exposed
for what he is: someone who will do anything and betray anyone.
Mahfouz received the Nobel Prize in 1988 and spent his prolific writing career portraying Egyptian life in all its aspects. Cairo Modern is an analogy for what happens to his beloved country as it veers from its principles prior to World War II. This book is recommended for literature lovers and those interested in the literature of other cultures.