This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
Translator Humphrey Davies, who translated al-Ghitani’s Pyramid Texts and The Mahfouz Dialogues, told the Associated Press that al-Ghitani pioneered a style “which was a kind of magic realism but an intensely Egyptian sort, with roots in both the history of Arabic literature but also areas such as Sufism and magic, and he managed to combine these in a very compelling way”:
“I think a very distinctive voice has been lost,” Davies said.
“The Crop” (trans. Mohammed Shaheen)
Before the shadow of the old camphor tree lengthened, before the call to prayer at noon, they stretched out on the ground beside the field when the crop was ripe – a day or two before harvest. The peas had escaped the blight which dries up leaves and drains away the green colour, leaving them like straw. ‘Abd al-Maujud was happy as he looked at his two sons, Jabir the elder, and ‘Abd al-‘Al, the younger, and then at the stems of the plants: what remained to be done was not much. The tea hummed in the pot, the only sound in the silence which ruled the day.
“Mystery Woman” (trans. Paul Starkey)
Had I made a mistake?
Let me try again.
There are several buttons on the telephone, one of which redials the last number. Just . . . the touch of a finger, and I started to wait expectantly for the soft clicks to finish. Her slow, deliberate voice came to me again, tired and a little dry: her voice from a home, a house, a flat, all of whose keys I kept with me.
“Naguib Mahfouz’s Childhood,” from The Mahfouz Dialogs (trans. Humphrey Davies), 2007.
When I travel in memory to the most distant beginnings of my life, to my earliest childhood, I remember our house in al-Gamaliya as almost empty. My father had had six children before me, who had followed one another in quick succession, four girls and two boys, after which my mother had no more children for nine years. Then I came along. When I reached the age of five, the difference between me and my next oldest brother was fifteen years. All the girls but one, of whose life in that house I remember nothing, had gotten married. My two brothers also had married, and one of them had entered the military college and gone off to serve in Sudan. This is why I remember only my father and my mother in the house. I can’t remember that any other person shared the house with us unless they were guests, such as my aunt on my father’s side and her daughter, or people from outside the family. For most of my life in that house I was like an only child, though of course we would visit my siblings in their homes; this is why, if I try to recall my memories of the latter, I remember them in their houses and not in ours. My relationship with them was that of a child with adults, its foundation politeness and good manners. I didn’t know them as siblings whose daily lives I shared, with whom I played or laughed. Consequently, the sibling relationship is one of those that I have followed with interest throughout my life.
This is why you will notice that I am always picturing brotherly relationships among siblings in my works: it is a result of my being deprived of such relationships, which appear in The Cairo Trilogy, in The Beginning and the End (Bidaya wa-nihaya), and in Khan al-Khalili. I never experienced that kind of relationship in my real life. I always regarded it as something forbidden or unknown. I wanted to have that same relationship with my friends—that of brotherliness.
“Annihilation,” from Pyramid Texts (trans. Humphrey Davies)
. . . of an old family, much noted, mentioned in manuscripts that have yet to be printed. He personally was well known, much in demand in the town and elsewhere.
Those with experience in climbing its four corners assert that his extraordinary gifts were obvious. His steps over the stones had a different rhythm and, despite his forefathers’ long history, he brought to it something that no one before him had, for no one before him had ever reached the summit by night.
“An Englightenment to the People of this World,” trans. May Jayyusi and Anthony Thwaite
I read this manuscript several months ago in the library of one of the old mosques in Gamaliyya. It aroused my astonishment with its strange theme, as it did not have anything to do with problems relating to the religious law. These pages contain, rather, the diary of the warden of the prison known in Mamluk times as al-Maqshara. Many pages of the manuscript are lost, but I preferred to publish what I found because of its rarity and peculiarity.
With Naguib Mahfoz at Cafe Riche, from Pinterest.