Naguib Mahfouz leaves Cairo for Keeps

Naguib Mahfouz in 1988, the year he recieved the Nobel Prize

Just returned to NYC from France. Still jetlagged, I read the Euro-press at 4 a.m. EST & discover that the great Egyptian novelist and first Arab Nobel Prize for Literature Naguib Mahfouz died yesterday in Cairo at age 94. A first assessment in Le Monde can be read here.

Here are the final lines from his Nobel address:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In spite of all what goes on around us I am committed to optimism until the end. I do not say with Kant that Good will be victorious in the other world. Good is achieving victory every day. It may even be that Evil is weaker than we imagine. In front of us is an indelible proof: were it not for the fact that victory is always on the side of Good, hordes of wandering humans would not have been able in the face of beasts and insects, natural disasters, fear and egotism, to grow and multiply. They would not have been able to form nations, to excel in creativeness and invention, to conquer outer space, and to declare Human Rights. The truth of the matter is that Evil is a loud and boisterous debaucherer, and that Man remembers what hurts more than what pleases. Our great poet Abul-‘Alaa’ Al-Ma’ari was right when he said:

“A grief at the hour of death
Is more than a hundred-fold
Joy at the hour of birth.”

I finally reiterate my thanks and ask your forgiveness.

(Translated by Mohammed Salmawy).

Here is the Reuters newsagency story:

CAIRO (Reuters) – Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the 1988 Nobel prize for literature and best known for his Cairo Trilogy, died on Wednesday in Egypt after suffering from a bleeding ulcer, doctors at an interior ministry hospital said.

The 94-year-old Mahfouz, who was the only writer in Arabic to win the prize, had been hospitalized since July 19 after he fell in the street and sustained a deep head wound that required surgery.

“He came to this world only to write,” Egyptian writer Youssef al-Quaid told Egyptian television.

“He was the most famous writer in Egypt … He had an incredible ability to create and create all his life.”

Mahfouz became a literary force when he moved beyond traditional novels to realistic descriptions of Egypt’s 20th century experience with colonialism and autocracy.

Declared an infidel by Muslim militants because of his portrayal of God in one of his novels, Mahfouz survived a knife attack by Muslim militants in 1994 that damaged a nerve and seriously impaired his ability to use his writing hand.

Mahfouz’s family declined treatment in the United States for his latest illness, Egyptian television reported.

Born in 1911 on December 11 in Cairo, the son of a merchant, Mahfouz was the youngest son in a family of four sisters and two brothers.

He obtained his philosophy degree from Cairo University at the age of 23, at a time when many Egyptians had only a primary education. He worked in the government’s cultural section until retiring in 1971.

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