The Cairo Trilogy
January 2013 Filed in: Books
I have been slowly ploughing through the Cairo Trilogy by Naquib Mahfouz, relishing it like a succulent meal. In spite of that, having read the first book, I am now gravitating towards Cairo, a [completely different] graphic novel by G. Willow Wilson, instead of the second book in the trilogy.
I haven't fully moved past my childhood picture-book days. I need the text versus illustration ratio to tip towards illustration to experience full satisfaction. Which is why, I hope every book is adapted into a movie, and is written in a suitable font to begin with! No amount of evocative writing will fill the visual void that my imagination relies heavily on to transport me to its world. I see this as a disability that I manage to overcome with acceptance and mind games. I imagine that I am the filmmaker being given the task of adapting the book into a movie, and then the void becomes my canvas.
Now, about the book.
Palace Walk is richly descriptive, and paints a visual picture of the everyday life of a family living in an alleyway by a major souk in Cairo. It deals with the Cairene's simultaneous struggle with and respect for the old established order, at a time marked by profound transformation, during the days leading to the Revolution. This is done sensitively, aided by Mahfouz's own nostalgia for the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Cairo, and its fragile social fabric!
There are two stories being told through the plot: One, presents a portrait of people that details the characters' lives and their personal aspirations, and alludes to the larger story behind the perceptively drawn picture; Another, presents a portrait of time that focusses on the story of the rising tide of nationalism, and the push and pull of a patriarchal society, and how it contributes to the incongruous life of one family!
Mahfouz combines the two stories with some fluidity, so even when the characters are preoccupied with their own lives, you can see each of them rising from their personal depths and representing an ideological point of view shared by many Cairenes. You can see inside their minds and grasp the motivation behind their behaviors, and understand both the shared values and the gulf of understanding between the characters.
The revolution has just begun and I am taking a break now to savor a real-life-meets-mythology take on Cairo in sequential art form.