"Palace Walk" by Naguib Mafouz

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"Palace Walk" is one of those stories that, while it is reasonably well-crafted, makes us wonder what the Nobel committee is about.

This is a passably interesting family story set in a traditional Muslim Cairo in the early part of the 20th century. The head of the household keeps to an authoritarian pattern of all-powerful paterfamilias in the home and tireless philanderer outside of it. A series of shocks hit our hero, Mr. Ahmad, and he is hardly ready for them. These culminate in the needless and capricious death of a grown son, and the father's world collapses utterly. The idea here is that change is inexorable and that fighting against it only makes it worse.

Mahfouz is directly on target when protraying human nature - this is very much a strong suit. But the story seems plain, sort of pedestrian and not very remarkable. I don't necessarily object to the Nobel Prize for this author and his book, but I'm curious about what the trigger might have been. Was it the depiction of human nature at a time of wrenching social change? Was it the tragic ending? Was it the theme of the helplessness of (mostly) virtuous individuals in the face of the force of Empire?

This is a long book, and while I didn't grudge the time I spent on it, I came away feeling bemused over the critical gush that accompanies it.
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