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Children of the Alley

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Children Of The Alley, by Mahfouz, Naguib The history of a Cairo alley through several generations. Successive heroes struggle to restore the rights of the people to the trust fund set up by their ancestor Gebelaawi, usurped by embezzlers and tyrants. Mahfouz creates in all its detail a world on the frontier between the real and the imaginary. At a deeper level, the book is Children Of The Alley, by Mahfouz, Naguib The history of a Cairo alley through several generations. Successive heroes struggle to restore the rights of the people to the trust fund set up by their ancestor Gebelaawi, usurped by embezzlers and tyrants. Mahfouz creates in all its detail a world on the frontier between the real and the imaginary. At a deeper level, the book is an allegory whose heroes relive the lives of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Moses, Jesus and Muhammed. Their appearance in a modern context invites the reader to see them as human beings relevant to the present day, not as remote sacred figures - to the consternation of some traditionalists. Most controversial is the significance of Gebelaawi, the immensely long-lived patriarch. Mahfouz himself has said that his character represents 'not God, but a certain idea of God that men have made', standing for the god of those who forget the absolute transcendence of God affirmed by Islam.


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Children Of The Alley, by Mahfouz, Naguib The history of a Cairo alley through several generations. Successive heroes struggle to restore the rights of the people to the trust fund set up by their ancestor Gebelaawi, usurped by embezzlers and tyrants. Mahfouz creates in all its detail a world on the frontier between the real and the imaginary. At a deeper level, the book is Children Of The Alley, by Mahfouz, Naguib The history of a Cairo alley through several generations. Successive heroes struggle to restore the rights of the people to the trust fund set up by their ancestor Gebelaawi, usurped by embezzlers and tyrants. Mahfouz creates in all its detail a world on the frontier between the real and the imaginary. At a deeper level, the book is an allegory whose heroes relive the lives of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Moses, Jesus and Muhammed. Their appearance in a modern context invites the reader to see them as human beings relevant to the present day, not as remote sacred figures - to the consternation of some traditionalists. Most controversial is the significance of Gebelaawi, the immensely long-lived patriarch. Mahfouz himself has said that his character represents 'not God, but a certain idea of God that men have made', standing for the god of those who forget the absolute transcendence of God affirmed by Islam.

30 review for Children of the Alley

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    أولاد حارتنا = Children of Our Alley = Children of Gebelawi, Naguib Mahfouz Children of the Alley, is a novel by the Egyptian writer and Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. It is also known by its Egyptian dialectal transliteration, Awlad Haretna, formal Arabic transliteration, Awlaadu Haaratena and by the alternative translated trans-literal Arabic title of Children of Our Alley. The story recreates the interlinked history of the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam أولاد حارتنا = Children of Our Alley = Children of Gebelawi, Naguib Mahfouz Children of the Alley, is a novel by the Egyptian writer and Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. It is also known by its Egyptian dialectal transliteration, Awlad Haretna, formal Arabic transliteration, Awlaadu Haaratena and by the alternative translated trans-literal Arabic title of Children of Our Alley. The story recreates the interlinked history of the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), allegorised against the setting of an imaginary 19th century Cairene alley. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز شانزدهم ماه آگوست سال 2006میلادی عنوان: حکایتهای (بچه های) محله ما؛ نوشته: نجیب محفوظ؛ مترجم: حیدر شجاعی؛ نشر تهران، دادار، 1385، در 248ص؛ شابک 9648097615؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان عرب - مصر - سده 20م حکایتهای (بچه‌ های) محله ما، یا پسران جبلاوی (به عربی: اولاد حارتنا)، داستان بلندی از نجیب محفوظ است، که نخستین بار در سال 1919میلادی در لبنان و در سال 1959میلادی، در روزنامه الأهرام منتشر می‌شد.؛ این رمان انتشارش مدتها در «مصر» قدغن شده بود، جنجال برانگیزترین اثر این نویسنده ی برجسته به شمار میآید؛ داستان این کتاب به سرگذشت کوچه ای در «مصر» در گذر چندین نسل میپردازد؛ شخصیتهای بسیاری تلاش میکنند تا حق مردمان را از کلاهبرداران و ستمگرانی بگیرند که اموال آبا و اجدادی آنها را غصب کرده اند؛ «نجیب محفوظ» در این اثر دنیایی را میآفریند که بین واقعیت و خیال، دائماً در گذار است؛ کتاب «حکایتهای محله ما» در سطحی ژرفتر، داستانی تمثیلی است، که قهرمانهایش، سرگذشتی همانند شخصیتهایی همچون «آدم»، «حوا»، «هابیل»، «قابیل» و ...؛ دارند؛ حضور چنین شخصیتهایی در جهانی مدرن باعث میشود که خوانشگر، آنها را در قالب انسانهایی عادی در زندگی امروزی ببیند؛ نکته ای که نقطه ی تمایز این رمان با دیگر آثار داستانیِ دیگران به شمار میآید تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 10/10/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Oh, the banality of human beliefs! Some years back, when I introduced Mahfouz to my eager son, who quickly made him one of his favourite authors, I told him that this parable on the development of human beliefs, societies and rituals is a quite simple, yet true tale. After he had read it, he agreed, and claimed other works by this versatile author his preferred reading. Thinking back though, I am convinced that it is precisely the banality of the cyclical need for revolution, followed by the inst Oh, the banality of human beliefs! Some years back, when I introduced Mahfouz to my eager son, who quickly made him one of his favourite authors, I told him that this parable on the development of human beliefs, societies and rituals is a quite simple, yet true tale. After he had read it, he agreed, and claimed other works by this versatile author his preferred reading. Thinking back though, I am convinced that it is precisely the banality of the cyclical need for revolution, followed by the institution of new authorities and then a slow development of authoritarian attitudes in the new leadership that makes it a timeless reading experience. There are no complicated theological or sociological mysteries to be found anywhere - simply because we are quite simpleminded as a species. We want to worship, and we want to enrich ourselves, we want to be feeling superior and we want to dictate our worldview to others. We want to be famous and revered and to leave a legacy. We want to get rid of rivals and overthrow whatever order is against our personal prosperity and success. That's all there is to religion or ideology. The house of the king is empty, no matter what we choose to call him and how we choose to show our respect and allegiance. The power lies in the elusive character of the leader. The less he (for it is a patriarch to be sure!) is defined, the more followers can identify with him. Beware of intellectually challenging statements, if you want to rule the world. Sadly, I think I have grown to believe this simple tale out of experience, as my intellectual idealism of earlier years turned out to be a quite naive illusion. We are not capable of anything more demanding than Mahfouz' parable. And we are willing to kill and steal and lie to protect our own specific brand of banality. So I am giving it five stars for seeing where we have always been heading: from one silly delusion to the next!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jibran

    Our plague is forgetfulness. To think that an attempt was made on Naguib Mahfouz's life for writing this book is beyond ridiculous. It shows that those who want to shut up books aren't really bothered with actual offensive material but react to perceptions of insult to their ideology in a world in which they are becoming increasingly outdated and irrelevant, hence all this mindless sensitiveness. As to the novel itself, I had a hard time with its two-dimensional characterisations and insufficient Our plague is forgetfulness. To think that an attempt was made on Naguib Mahfouz's life for writing this book is beyond ridiculous. It shows that those who want to shut up books aren't really bothered with actual offensive material but react to perceptions of insult to their ideology in a world in which they are becoming increasingly outdated and irrelevant, hence all this mindless sensitiveness. As to the novel itself, I had a hard time with its two-dimensional characterisations and insufficient conflict. We have a brutal world headed by Gebelaawi, the timeless arch-ancestor of the human settlement who fathered and brought into world various tribes, and who lives in seclusion in the grand house shielded by everyone and everything, ruling his estate - the world - in absentia. God in other words, or the Abrahamic idea of it. The story revolves around the struggle between his succeeding generations modeled on various Biblio-Quranic figures such as Abel and Cain, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, who were chosen to be sent to their tribes when the human condition became intolerably dark. Mahfouz leaves us in ambiguity as to whether the prophets were actually chosen by Gebelaawi or whether they came to believe in their station by some extraordinary natural agency that set them apart from the sheeple. The same story repeats itself like a broken record. Every reform movement descends into the chaos as soon as the leader of the tribe turns his back on the temporary abode that is the world. It is as though Mahfouz is saying that nothing ever changes; things do not get better for ever; evil overpowers good at the first opportunity. One prophet comes, fixes things, gives people a simulacrum of justice and happiness, only for them to go back to fighting, killing, pillaging, and the oppression and injustice that comes with the abuse of power. Might the implied failure of various leaders have caused offence to the deranged extremists living in a perfect golden age of their imagination? Who knows eh. I mentioned its lack of subtlety above, but I'm tempted to see the narrative voice as imitating the Quranic storytelling told in dry, exhortative, repetitive, fear-inducing tones for maximum effect. The good and evil are portrayed in absolute terms even though the prophets are brought down from their infallible station in myth to the level of humanity with their personal flaws. We do have room to see it as ironical. This is a promising idea for a story superimposed on the historico-mythical children of Abraham, only if Mahfouz had handled it with more tact. But there's no mistaking what he's getting at: I myself have seen this wretched state of affairs in our own day - a faithful reflection of what people tell us about the past. As for the bards, they tell only of the heroic times, avoiding anything that could offend the powerful, singing praises...and celebrating a justice we never enjoy, a mercy we never find, a nobility we never meet with, a restraint we never see and a fairness we never hear of. February '16

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Initially I was put off by the violence, the foreign-ness of this novel but I'm very glad I persisted. This is a retelling of Biblical and Islamic stories of heroes and villains with the heroes occasionally victorious but the world eventually sinking back into the same mire of brutality and rule of the sword. The heroes are not equally or identically heroic, each trying a different way to bring peace and equality to the world. None is fully successful. It would appear that mankind is still waiti Initially I was put off by the violence, the foreign-ness of this novel but I'm very glad I persisted. This is a retelling of Biblical and Islamic stories of heroes and villains with the heroes occasionally victorious but the world eventually sinking back into the same mire of brutality and rule of the sword. The heroes are not equally or identically heroic, each trying a different way to bring peace and equality to the world. None is fully successful. It would appear that mankind is still waiting. I would imagine that is why Mahfouz had a fatwa declared against him after writing this book. I'm looking forward to the Constant Reader discussion to come.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    I have read quite a few novels by Naguib Mahfouz and found this one weaker than what I have read before. The premise is a good one: to cover the spiritual history of mankind in terms of our efforts to improve our existence and society. Using the framework of key historical moments, he offers tales concerning the inhabitants dwelling in an Egyptian alley. All these people have a common ancestor and indeed exist to greater or lesser degrees by the whim of their patriarch. In each period covered thr I have read quite a few novels by Naguib Mahfouz and found this one weaker than what I have read before. The premise is a good one: to cover the spiritual history of mankind in terms of our efforts to improve our existence and society. Using the framework of key historical moments, he offers tales concerning the inhabitants dwelling in an Egyptian alley. All these people have a common ancestor and indeed exist to greater or lesser degrees by the whim of their patriarch. In each period covered throughout the novel, some sort of exceptional, always male, person arises from the masses of people and attempts to resolve the conflicts and sufferings of his fellows. One of these is similar to Adam from Genesis. Another pair of brothers are reminiscent of Cain and Abel, one is Christ-like. Each of them has a special connection with Gabalawi, the ancestor, who dwells in a big manor house and owns all the area around and including the alley. These potential heroes or saviors feel they are fulfilling the wishes of the old man, who seems to live forever. They often better conditions but eventually die, after which the population of the alley regresses to their old ways. Greed, oppression, envy, competitiveness, and other ills are never conquered. The means applied by each of these reformers vary, from non-violence to the use of force, from enlightenment to magic. I was kept reading because Mafouz seemed to be following a progression of spiritual evolution and because each section has intriguing plots, counter plots, and relationships. In the end however, progress has not been made. Man is incorrigible and carries on telling the old tales while hoping that magically all will come right if only one is patient. I was left confused. Is Mahfouz saying that hope is the key? Or is he mocking our irresponsible habit of waiting for some god or hero to solve our problems for us?

  6. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, all portrayed as characters in an alley, as Children of their founder Gebelaawi. Fascinating, with some slow parts. But fascinating.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rania

    "آفة حارتِنا النسيان." "Our alley is plagued with forgetfulness." Forgetfulness, what a plague.. And because of this forgetfulness, the same story is repeated over and over again, with different characters and at different times. We are before an extraordinary novel. Extraordinary in every sense of word. It is a novel that was about to bring its author to his doom after being misinterpreted by a group of fascist Islamists who took it for being blasphemous. Let's admit, however, that it's not a novel "آفة حارتِنا النسيان." "Our alley is plagued with forgetfulness." Forgetfulness, what a plague.. And because of this forgetfulness, the same story is repeated over and over again, with different characters and at different times. We are before an extraordinary novel. Extraordinary in every sense of word. It is a novel that was about to bring its author to his doom after being misinterpreted by a group of fascist Islamists who took it for being blasphemous. Let's admit, however, that it's not a novel that is easy to decipher. In terms of language, this is by far the most beautiful and artistic piece of art I've ever read. Each word is carefully chosen to fit in its place in order to create a beautiful painting of the alley. We're almost able to live inside this alley for a while, with fear striking our hearts at the sight of the bullies and bloodshed, the smoke of hash penetrating our noses, the rebab songs of the late heroes reaching our ears and hopes for a peaceful and just alley where love and peace prevail and injustice comes to an end fill our heads and chests. Mahfouz's novel is timeless in more than one sense. It's timeless as it is really set outside any identifiable time frame. We're completely at a loss when it comes to identifying which era this novel could be possibly set in. It's an Egyptian (probably) alley, and that's it. Is this timelessness significant in itself? There is a fact that cannot be ignored here. The resemblance between the subsequent stories, which represent 5 subsequent generations, to the stories of creation, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad is undeniable and is unmistakably visible, and this is what led extremists to attempt an assassination of Mahfouz. However, even though the book is symbolic, the stories could by no means be representative of God and his 3 messengers (peace be upon them all). There is a frequent mention of and a clear reference to God Almighty by the different characters. So, if the three men, Gabal, Rifa'a and Kassem do have similar stories to those of the 3 messengers, one possible interpretation of this is that maybe such stories happen every day. Maybe in every age and in every spot on earth there is one story about injustice in which the powerful treat the weak unfairly and steal their money in order to satisfy their insatiable greed, being protected by their power and ruthlessness. Amidst this darkness of lost hopes and cries of humiliation and agony, there could appear a person who would call for justice, and then they become the only ray of hope coloring the sky which has only known the color of blood. It's only through supporting such heroes and uniting against injustice that people could seek a decent life, a life that is only full of flowers and songs like the one Adham dreams of in Gabalawy's house, a life like the one Adam was once given before Satan was able to deceive him and cause him to be doomed till the end of life. The fifth part of the book is slightly different. This part is about "Arafa", the very name being derived from the Arabic word for "knowledge". This is when people start seeking Arafa's magical abilities, rather than Gabalawy's teachings, to protect them from the alley's governor and his bullies. As Mahfouz himself says, Arafa symbolizes knowledge and science, and with the final disappearance of Gabalawy (who is a symbol for religion) and the rise of Arafa, a question arises about the sufficiency of science to live and combat injustice. And with this question comes the eternal conflict between science and religion. With Arafa's collapse, people start questioning science and seek returning to Gabalawy and his teachings. They no longer know what they need to live in peace and with dignity, and this is one dilemma in real life which Mahfouz skillfully transfers on paper. It's an exceptional novel about the eternal fact of the eternal conflict between good and evil.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    This is an allegory on the history of prophets of Abraham religions – Adam, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad represented as far as humanly possible. Gebelaawi, the creator of an alley, favored his son (from a servant) Adham over his other sons of higher birth including Idris (Iblis). Idris walked out on his father and later tricked Adham into the temptation of knowing G’s will causing G to throw him out. “Your mind stays in the place it's been thrown out of.” Adham lived on hoping to get back the comfor This is an allegory on the history of prophets of Abraham religions – Adam, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad represented as far as humanly possible. Gebelaawi, the creator of an alley, favored his son (from a servant) Adham over his other sons of higher birth including Idris (Iblis). Idris walked out on his father and later tricked Adham into the temptation of knowing G’s will causing G to throw him out. “Your mind stays in the place it's been thrown out of.” Adham lived on hoping to get back the comfortable life that was once his, scorn-ing at life to sustain which you have to earn: “Only an animal worries all the time about the next meal. “ Adham lived a miserable life – the memory of lost paradise can bring more suffering than residence in hell, he saw one of his sons kill the other. However, G promised Adham on later's death bed that his children will get the life he had yawned for. Although G didn’t take Adham’s successors back in his palace, he created a trust for their benefit. However, soon trustee (our symbol for powerful) grew corrupt and he kept some gangsters for his protection. The people who were now suffering repeatedly saw hope of redemption first in aggressive Gebel (Moses) -who wanted ‘an eye for an eye’ sort of order and saved but only a few, that is, his tribe whom he considered successors of Adham, then in Rifaa (Jesus) – an innocent idiot who thought power was useless and love was the real thing; and then in Qasim (Muhammad) – who tried balancing previous ideas -‘Force when necessary and love always’. All of them seemed to react to the previous one(s) and all of them won victories to different extents. However soon, work done by each of them was undone and same old conditions returned – as if creating room for the next prophet. Nothing from them remained behind except their names - which people loved associating themselves with and their stories. “our plague is forgetfulness.” “No one who looks at the state of our Alley will believe what the rebec tells in the cafes. Who was Gebel? Who was Rifaa? Who was Qaasim? Where, outside the world of the cafe, are the good works that are referred to? All that the eye sees is an alley sunk in darkness and bards singing of dreams.” Just as Orwell showed meaninglessness of political revolutions, NF shows meaninglessness of religious ones. A revolution may move people but it won’t change them; like an autumn leaf blown by winds, we will fell back to their old ways. "Gebel, Rifaa, and Qaasim were only names - songs chanted by drugged bards in the cafes. Each faction was proud of its hero, of whom no trace remained, and they quarreled and fought about them. Various phrases went around the hashish dens: 'What's the use?' (of the world, not of drugs) or 'It all ends in death; let's die at the hand of God and not under a strong man 's cudgel. The best we can do is get drunk or take hashish. ' They wailed sad songs about treachery, poverty and degradation, or chanted bawdy ones in the ears of any man or woman who was seeking consolation, however terrible their misfortune. At times of particular misery people would say: 'What is written is written. Gebel can't help, nor Rifaa, nor Qaasim. Our fate flies in this world and dust in the next. '" However, hope has a way of finding something to attach itself to. Now it attaches itself to magic (science) something which Arafa (the fifth son of Alley) brought with itself. Unlike prophets, he neither was thrown out by G. (Adham), nor was met by G. any time(Gebel)), nor he heard his voices(Rifaa) or saw any of his servants (Qaasim) – notice how G. is becoming less and less visible to each new generation. Arafa wants to repeat Adham’s mistakes, he wants to know: “The truth is I want to look at the book that caused Adham to be thrown out, if the stories are true.” Unlike prophets, he doesn’t hope of developing a following. Unlike them, his dream is not limited to that of Adham’s: “Imagine it if life was spent in leisure! It's a beautiful dream, but a laughable one, Hanash. What would be really beautiful would be to do away with work in order to work miracles.” Innocently the scientist becomes the cause of G.’s death: “Gebelaawi whom it had been easier to kill than to see.” “Now that he's gone, respect is due to the dead man.” However, G was satisfied with Arafa at the time of his death. Innocently, he ends up making the wicked trustee far more powerful who will later turn against him. Still, that fight is not over, G. is dead and yet hope didn’t die with him. They no longer look towards G’s house and moan his name yet they have found a new hope – in magic. ”If we had to choose between Gebelaawi and magic, we would choose magic.” The Irony Now all this may make you believe that the allegory is questioning faith. It seems so - Geblaawi is the god, right? And he dies, and works of prophets are undone, and only hope is science? There are some other objections as well. For example – we can still argue that three prophets (other than Adham) might have lied or had hallucinations; we have nothing but their word to suggest any communication between them and G. In one chapter they are seen pondering over the revolution, in next we see them telling others about how they received G’s message. Then there is how works of prophets were undone. Also, we are being told stories by a successor (first-person narration). All of them might only be stories. A controversial leader from Egypt said that Rushdi wouldn’t have dared to publish his Satanic Verses If Mahfouz was punished. It did earn a ban in Egypt and an attack on author’s life. Now here is God’s truth (intended) – Geblaawi is not supposed to be God. According to the author, nothing can represent God and the work is a deeply 'religious' one. Then what does Geblaawi actually represent? He represents some people’s idea of god. Don’t ask me what it is supposed to mean. If you want to know author’s perspective on things, you must read the Translator’s note (thanks Jibran for suggesting the translation ). One thing that proves Mahfouz was saying the truth and was not merely trying to save his neck from being stabbed again is that God is directly mentioned in the book - in people’s prayers and wishes as separate from Gadalaawi – which could be strange if he stood for God. It is like Stalin directly mentioned by name in Animal Farm. “God 's will be done! After his long life Gebelaawi is dead. A non-anthropic God is what Islamic tradition has always advocated for and so you see there was nothing of blasphemy there. NF was revolted after reading Darwin’s work. Like Milton’s Paradise Lost, the book was written by an author in an effort to reconcile his religious doubts. G. B. Shaw’s ‘Back to Methuselah’ – a similar work reconciling religion and science partly inspired NF. Kazan takis' Christ Recrucified is supposed to be another work that is in some ways similar. And so you see, how different Rushdi and Mahfouz are – want more? Mahfouz put a higher value on peace than freedom of expression and wasn’t in favor of republication of work if it could lead to disturbance. A God that has nothing human in him (it?) Personally, I don’t know how a non-anthropic God solves any of the questions raised by Darwinism. Moreover, all our knowledge is anthropic. A God that has feelings, can laugh or weep, is so far more relatable (and Quran itself gives God anthropic feelings like mercy and kindness to God). There is, for example, an old Hindi song in which a man is questioning God (more exactly, ‘creator of World’) as to why he created the world, people, cultures while second-guessing God’s reasons. Here is what he had to ask God about love: “You too must have suffered upon creating heart, Upon creating that storm of love in it, Someone sometime must have lived in your heart too Tears too must have appeared in your eyes. Now, this is a god you could relate to. Like Nietzsche, I too can’t care about a God who won’t dance. More Quotes: “death, which destroys life with fear even before it strikes.” “fear doesn't stop you from dying, but it stops you from living.” “intimate conversation lost all its meaning if it lasted forever” “What need is there for you to talk when you' re always singing?” "As long as I can't give back life, I can't claim to have any power."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    (translated by Philip Stewart) Read By: Robert Blumenfeld Copyright: 1981 Audiobook Copyright: 2006 Genre: Fiction> religion Total Duration: 13:23:38 (view spoiler)[Book Description: Naguib Mahfouz guides us on a journey through the history of the tumultuous alley belonging to a delightful - and sometimes diabolical - Egyptian family: the descendants of a man named Gebelawi. We accompany them in their struggles to right their wrongs, to eke out a better existence for themselves and their cohorts (translated by Philip Stewart) Read By: Robert Blumenfeld Copyright: 1981 Audiobook Copyright: 2006 Genre: Fiction> religion Total Duration: 13:23:38 (view spoiler)[Book Description: Naguib Mahfouz guides us on a journey through the history of the tumultuous alley belonging to a delightful - and sometimes diabolical - Egyptian family: the descendants of a man named Gebelawi. We accompany them in their struggles to right their wrongs, to eke out a better existence for themselves and their cohorts - and we discover a second, hidden, and daring narrative: the spiritual history of humankind. From the supreme feudal lord who disowns one son for cruel pride and puts another to the test, to the savior of a succeeding generation who frees his people from bondage, we find the men and women of a modern Cairo neighborhood unwittingly reenacting the lives of their holy ancestors: the "children of the alley." (hide spoiler)] From wiki: The Children of Gebelawi (1959, also known as "Children of our Alley") one of Mahfouz's best known works, has been banned in Egypt for alleged blasphemy over its allegorical portrayal of God and the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, until the ban was released in 2006. It portrayed the patriarch Gebelaawi and his children, average Egyptians living the lives of Cain and Abel, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed. Gebelawi has built a mansion in an oasis in the middle of a barren desert; his estate becomes the scene of a family feud which continues for generations. "Whenever someone is depressed, suffering or humiliated, he points to the mansion at the top of the alley at the end opening out to the desert, and says sadly, 'That is our ancestor's house, we are all his children, and we have a right to his property. Why are we starving? What have we done?'" The book was banned throughout the Arab world, except in Lebanon, and in Egypt where the novel was published in 2006. How audacious, and to my mind his finest. This was as violent, cruel and unforgiving as the desert god of the old testament, underlining the reason why the three faiths it spawned are known as sword religions. 3* Palace Walk 3* Palace of Desire 3* Sugar Street 3* The Harafish TR Arabian Nights and Days 4* Children of Gebelawi

  10. 4 out of 5

    Naim Frewat

    A masterpiece. One of the best books I read in my life. I think every Arab should read it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Amr Rashad

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Simply Epic!!! This novel faced unjust prejudice in the past few decades. Extremists won't understand the brilliant work done here, this novel is the story of creation told over, and over again, and shows how history repeats itself, and that the deeds, and the events that happened to the prophets can happen to other humans, cause prophets were never perfect (They were the most perfect humans), and perfection is only attributed to God. Humans are affected by their history, and the version they kn Simply Epic!!! This novel faced unjust prejudice in the past few decades. Extremists won't understand the brilliant work done here, this novel is the story of creation told over, and over again, and shows how history repeats itself, and that the deeds, and the events that happened to the prophets can happen to other humans, cause prophets were never perfect (They were the most perfect humans), and perfection is only attributed to God. Humans are affected by their history, and the version they know of it, and you find them subconsciously repeating the deeds (rights and wrongs) of their ancestors. Another angle to look at this novel is to see it as a parallel universe to the one we are living in. In this one, the values of life are a little bit different, but still the ultimate goal is goodwill of people, and their prosperity. The main characters have similar aspects and characteristics to a God, and linage of prophets, starting with Gebelaawi (God), throwing his favourtie son Idris (Devil) out of his mercy for going against his wisdom, and will, and the tricks Idris (Devil) played on Adham (Adam) to kick him as well from Gebelaawi (God)'s care, and how he kept grudging against his children Kadry (Cain), and Hamam (Abel), until he destroyed them. Then we jump to the story of Jabal (Moses) and his look for power, to discipline people, and fight for their rights, and then to Refa'a (Jesus) and his merciful fight for people's rights through a different approach, which is mercy. Then came Qasem (Mohamed) with his balanced method to fight for all people, not just his own, using both power and mercy. Every one of them achieved his goal for a time, then people failed them, and got distracted by desires, and greed, and the final chapter portrays the unintentional conflict between Arafa (Knowledge) and Gebelaawi (God), even though Arafa (Knowledge)'s main goal is to return the values of Gebelaawi (God) to the people who have forgot all about them, he ends killing him (Killing the idea of merciful, and just god in the hearts of the people), and all the guilt Arafa (Knowledge) feels, but with no luck to correct his mistake (resurrection of Gebelaawi). This is the novel of the year for me, I'm glad I got the chance to finish it, and I wish one day it gets a TV adaption for a giant like HBO, Netflix, or Amazon.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

    Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy was so good that I found myself let down after reading this book. The idea had seemed just like something I might like: A series of stories bear an eerie parallel to those found in the Bible and the Koran. Ah, the controversy! I can just hear it now! Or ... maybe not. What Mahfouz is trying to do here is introduce existentialism to an Arabic-speaking readership. The book came out in 1958, after all, during the heyday of the genre. Anyone missing this point can be f Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy was so good that I found myself let down after reading this book. The idea had seemed just like something I might like: A series of stories bear an eerie parallel to those found in the Bible and the Koran. Ah, the controversy! I can just hear it now! Or ... maybe not. What Mahfouz is trying to do here is introduce existentialism to an Arabic-speaking readership. The book came out in 1958, after all, during the heyday of the genre. Anyone missing this point can be forgiven for thinking he has launched a frontal attack on religious truths. The story is actually rather tame, implying mainly the Nietzschean idea of “God is dead” in an unusual series of tales. No specific attack on particular religions lies in these pages. The controversy in the Middle East surrounding this book isn’t about any specific point Mahfouz made, but that he wrote about religion at all. The allegory is made up of five stories that give readers the complete history of a composite religion in a world that mirrors our own. What I didn’t like is that the stories end with the same moral collapse each time, so they become repetitive. Then, too, Mahfouz’s great talent is storytelling. But with this allegorical account, the author’s story is already told for him by existing religious texts, so the scope of his creativity is limited. And as well, the way existential writing can meander, as with Camus, doesn’t appeal to me. The narrative is by no means bad. After all, it’s Mahfouz. The last chapter departs sharply from traditional religious accounts to include a subject we don’t ordinarily consider from a religious point of view. With it we get a nice little existential twist. The writing is tops, with Mahfouz reworking the stories of the Abrahamic tradition in engaging prose. So far I have never suspected a problem with the translation of this author, and this translation reads well over its 450 pages. To me the book was too long and repetitive, and too restricted by genre and allegory. But because the novel exhibits strong writing along a specific style, other readers may well find this a wonderful, thought-provoking tale.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Imane

    The whole idea of the story is genius . Najib Mahfuz has perfectly crafted his story by including characters similar to prophets , and how they were all striving to make their land a better place.I don't think this book was meant to attack religion at any rate.The whole opposition it received from religious authorities was solely based on the idea that anything which criticises religion,either directly or indirectly,is doomed to be banned and rejected. The whole idea of the story is genius . Najib Mahfuz has perfectly crafted his story by including characters similar to prophets , and how they were all striving to make their land a better place.I don't think this book was meant to attack religion at any rate.The whole opposition it received from religious authorities was solely based on the idea that anything which criticises religion,either directly or indirectly,is doomed to be banned and rejected.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mina Sherif Georgy

    سوف تَنسَي أو تُنسّي، لأن آفة حارتنا هي النسيان... A phenomenal masterpiece by a brilliant mastermind that was revolutionary by its time.. A novel that shaken the unshakable water that was stagnant for centuries and introduced the Egyptian literature to postmodern era.. ------------------------------ #mg_books_reviews

  15. 4 out of 5

    Neveen

    This book stirred up so much controversy when it was first released. To this day I can't find a serious and objective review of the book in Arabic. Unfortunately, it was judged as blasphemous and no one could get over the similarities between the main characters of the novel and prominent religious figures. From the begining of the novel it is clear that it is an allegory of the human spiritual experiennce. The parallels between events in the Gabalawy household and the story of creation are strik This book stirred up so much controversy when it was first released. To this day I can't find a serious and objective review of the book in Arabic. Unfortunately, it was judged as blasphemous and no one could get over the similarities between the main characters of the novel and prominent religious figures. From the begining of the novel it is clear that it is an allegory of the human spiritual experiennce. The parallels between events in the Gabalawy household and the story of creation are striking and impossible to ignore. So much detail is woven into the events of the novel, down to Idris calling himself "the STAR of the household" just as the fallen angel is called a star in the Bible. Of all the characters I found Rifaa (the character representing the story of Jesus) the least sympathetic and convincing. He seems unrealistic ... and moreover, as a representation of Jesus he seems a blurred image of the original. Perhaps this is my own prejudice as a Christian... nobody could do my Lord justice in portraying Him :) Or perhaps it is because Mr. Mahfouz presented all events pertaining to Rifaa from an Islamic point view only. But I believe it could also be attributed to a difficulty the writer had in grasping the magnitude of Jesus' message and His nature and wisedom (oops! is this my prejudice speaking again:)) And the character I identified with the most was Arafa. To me, Arafa is the most REAL of all of Gabalwy's children. He is the personification of the struggle to attain knowledge and do good ... to lose your way then gather up the courage to get back on track. Arafa (and Naguib Mahfouz) have been demonised for daring to kill Gabalawy. What many people failed to see is that it wasn't Arafa who killed Gabalawy. Arafa was not planning nor was he intereseted in killing Gabalawy. All he wanted to do was to make things better. I didn't sense the blasphemy the spoke of when this novel was written and released. Nor did I see Mr. Mahfouz insinuating that science (Arafa) has killed God (Gabalawy) and therefore science triumphs over religion. What I did sense was someone saying here's our history, learn from it and don't forget the lessons you learn... someone who presented a different view of humanity spiritual journey and said we're all really just trying to find justice in this world. There is no shame in that. And certainly no blasphemy!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    The blurb on the inside jacket copy says, "neither a parable nor an allegory." I've been puzzling over how they could say that. I thought it was allegory early on when Gabalawi throws Adhem and his wife out of the mansion with the beautiful garden they loved so much. Later in the book there’s a Cain and Abel parallel, too. Allegory all the way. Most Egyptians are not Christian. I kept reading this as almost parallel to many Christian bible stories, and wondering if Islam has similar stories or i The blurb on the inside jacket copy says, "neither a parable nor an allegory." I've been puzzling over how they could say that. I thought it was allegory early on when Gabalawi throws Adhem and his wife out of the mansion with the beautiful garden they loved so much. Later in the book there’s a Cain and Abel parallel, too. Allegory all the way. Most Egyptians are not Christian. I kept reading this as almost parallel to many Christian bible stories, and wondering if Islam has similar stories or if Mafouz was writing from a strictly Christian POV. That said, I have to say that a little allegory goes a long way with me. I felt the allegorical aspect of the book kept him from making his characters as deep and well-rounded as he might have. I always had the feeling he was manipulating little paper dolls in a kind of shadow-play to fit his stories. And I tired of the stories. They began to get repetitive. By the last 1/4 of the book I was pretty much skimming. I knew there was going to be a saviour figure and great hope for a Paradise, then the saviour or his followers would blow it and the same old, same old would start all over again. We didn't need quite so many stories to glom onto that idea.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kristen Northrup

    A really interesting concept, well-executed. (Nobel Prize winner, so go figure.) That concept was also a permanent distraction, however. Especially when the plot would deviate from the 'real' story. Although the deviations did at least keep it all from being totally predictable. For the second-to-last chapter, I know basically nothing about the theme, but even then I kept wondering which bits would be familiar if I did, and just generally felt guilty for knowing so little. Subplots involving sup A really interesting concept, well-executed. (Nobel Prize winner, so go figure.) That concept was also a permanent distraction, however. Especially when the plot would deviate from the 'real' story. Although the deviations did at least keep it all from being totally predictable. For the second-to-last chapter, I know basically nothing about the theme, but even then I kept wondering which bits would be familiar if I did, and just generally felt guilty for knowing so little. Subplots involving supporting characters in that final section were clear just from current events, though. Really interesting look at another culture as well, since the issues of modern Egypt bled through. Brings up thoughts about how the story would go if written by someone in another -- any other -- country.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gohar Khokhar

    I liked the idea of relating characters to historical figures of Abrahamic religion, but i felt a lot of repetition is there, gangsters and overseer are in every episode which make it monotonous.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Zainab Mirah

    I finally met my favorite book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    ἀρχαῖος (arkhaîos) In Lockdown

    'Children of the Alley' is a book worth reading even if not life changing one. (It may elicit stronger emotions from those with strong religious or political beliefs). Reading "Children of the Alley" becomes more enjoyable for the reader, the greater their knowledge of Jewish/Christian/Muslim mythologies. This is an allegory, and as with all allegories, the enjoyment increases with the understanding of the connections. That being said, this is not a difficult book to understand in its basics but 'Children of the Alley' is a book worth reading even if not life changing one. (It may elicit stronger emotions from those with strong religious or political beliefs). Reading "Children of the Alley" becomes more enjoyable for the reader, the greater their knowledge of Jewish/Christian/Muslim mythologies. This is an allegory, and as with all allegories, the enjoyment increases with the understanding of the connections. That being said, this is not a difficult book to understand in its basics but it was written by a Muslim largely for a Muslim audience. The message was intended, I suspect, for humanity. If there is a deep message here, I have missed it. (And the cover is nice.) - The allegory follows the Jewish/Christian/Muslim myth from an Adam, Eve, Satan, Cain and Abel-like characters to Moses through Jesus and friends and on to a Mohammad-like character. While these characters bear certain resemblances to the characters of myth, Mahfouz does not go beyond sketching their lives, not attempting to recreate the existing myth. Added to these stories is one in which the central character, Arafat, styles himself as a 'magician' who is able to use his skills to create exploding bottles that becomes a powerful weapon for controlling the people of the alley. Over the series of five stories sits the father figure, Gabalawi, a god-like figure who seems to wish only good for his descendants, who populate the alley, but who lives in the 'Mansion' overlooking the alley and does little to bring this about. He only appears, if he really does appear, to encourage his people to strive for a better life, perhaps to find their better selves. - The story itself is told by an anonymous narrator in a voice that creates the mythic character of the stories, simple and plaintiff, as he repeats the complaint of the people of the alley, "That is our ancestor's house, we are all his children, and we have a right to his property. The narrator knows the stories from the poets who sing them every night in the coffee houses. Why are we starving? What have we done?" The setting, in general, of all of the stories, which proceed in the chronology of the myths, brings to mind Cairo of Nassar's time, thus the 1950s, when the book was written. It is a narrow, crowded alley with coffee houses, drug dens, story tellers, thugs and criminals. Violence and fear permeate the book except for during those few moments where the prophet of the day brings some peace. The sounds and smells of this somewhat stereotype overhang most of the book like a darkening cloud (if I may be allowed my own simile). - The first story begins with Adham (Adam) as he falls from Gabalawi's grace after allowing himself to be tempted by his older brother, Idris (Satan) who has also fallen from grace and by his wife Umaima (Eve). As a result of their respective falls, they are exiled from the good life of the Mansion and its garden to struggle to survive in the alley. Qadri (Abel) then slays Humam (Cain) and at the end of the first story, Qadri and Hind (the daughter of Idris) begin to populate the alley with their children. Adham dies yearning to return to the garden. - In the second story, Gabal (Moses) who has been adopted into the family of the overseer of the alley, sees the injustices as his natural family, the Al Hamden, is being subjected to a life of poverty and violence. In the end of this story, Gabal overthrows the power of the overseer and his thugs and establishes himself as the overseer who shares out the wealth of the estate to his own people, the Al Hamden, thus establishing the chosen people. Finally, he establishes the law, literally, 'an eye for an eye'. As before, however, corrupt people eventually take control and all are again subject to poverty and violence. - Next comes the story of Rifaa (Jesus), who also sets out to relieve the poverty and violence following a supposed desert meeting with Gabalawi. As a man of peace and justice, however, Rifaa brings about a transition which includes all people of the alley, not just his own relatives. Of course, finally, like Jesus he is killed by the authorities but his legacy of sharing the estate with all in a peaceful alley lives on briefly until violence and injustice once again take over. - The next saviour is Qassem (Mohammad) an intelligent and just man, who survives a childhood as an orphan to marry a rich widow. His comfortable existence is disrupted, however, when he is visited by a servant of Gabalawi who informs him that it is Assam's task to bring about "that the alley must be an extension of the mansion" (Heaven). After some struggle and much violence, Qassem is successful a vanquishing the new group of thugs and criminals and sets up a new regime with himself as a just and peaceful leader. Despite the prediction by one of his followers, "Our alley will never mourn again after today," corruption again prevails and we come to our last story. - This is the story of Arafa who seems to have no mythological origins. Mahfouz has created him wholly. He comes to the alley as something of an unknown. While his mother is known, his father is not. He is thus not seen as a threat by any of the existing groups, the followers of each of Gabal, Rifaa or Qassem. - As an allegorical character, Arafa could represent 'enlightened' man, scientific man, or, perhaps, Albert Einstein, who had died a few years before expressing his own regrets about the results of his work. Sometimes, we cannot know the meaning of the allegories anymore than that of the prophets. Here, he comes to bring justice. He sees himself in the role of the saviours before him. He will use his magic to save the people of the alley. But he fails. He fails and becomes corrupted and in the process he brings about the death of Gabalawi. The death of God. Then Arafa himself is slain. - Then there is little else. Only the slim possibility that Arafa's notebook containing his secrets has survived and that, perhaps, the young people disappearing from the village on a regular basis will return one day to use this magic to overthrow the tyranny and the violence once more. - After reading almost 450 pages of this mildly entertaining book, I am tempted to ask, "So what?". These are stories that I already know in greater detail. They would have been even better known by the generally moderate, Muslim population in Cairo where the book was first published in serial form in a newspaper in 1959. Gamal Abdul Nasser had seized power several years earlier and seemed to promise a better future in a more modernised country. There is nothing there to suggest that Arafa is Nasser nor that there is cause for concern. - After the serialisation, the book was not published in its entirety in the Arab world until after Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1989. In 1994, an attempt was made on his life by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, supposedly because the book presented a corrupt vision of God. - There's an obvious message in the book that people are corrupt by nature and will always soil the nest. Like children, they will not take responsibility but are ever hopeful that someone else will come to improve their lives, to bring justice. But, I would suggest that this is trite. I wish that I could say that the book brought me a profound knowledge, but such is not the case. - Allegories that carry mysterious messages are always dangerous territory. Some people will always be taken by them (ref. Coelho). Others will be completely revolted by them (ref. Coelho). I tend to fall amongst the latter. What saves this book and suggests that I will read other Mahfouz books is that Mahfouz writes extremely well and has a strong voice. Perhaps he was not trying to make a profound point. Perhaps he was trying to point out the obvious to his fellow Egyptians, Muslims, and humans. I shall read more Mahfouz, contingent upon what my friend Jan says about the Cairo Trilogy of course.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Giovana Zardo Luckow

    A very intelligent book about human beliefs, full of symbolism! Amazing!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tharwat Abaza

    This was my first Naguib Mahfouz read and my second Arabic read in general. I think this is one of the best pieces of literature I have ever read. The beautiful harmony between real life places and people and fiction and the very-well-thought-out use of symbolism in this piece is astonishing. I got absorbed into the pages and the more I read the more I wanted to read. I think everyone should read this book at some point in their lives. You just have to.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Hassan G

    3.56 It was gripping, archetypal, yet the characters felt two dimensional and unconvincing. Initially, I felt that the story was somewhat enjoyable, and easy to breeze through.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rami Hamze

    One of my all-time favorites, this book is a masterpiece of symbolism. where do I start, I could write a thesis on this not a review. I had to read it with google by my side, every sentence held a hidden meaning. Just as Orwell used animals in a farm to denote a “higher form of life” i.e. humans and tackle their taboos, Mahfouz used humans to symbolize prophets and religious figures. Novel starts with Gebalawi (God) the owner of the alley whose son Adham (Adam) was kicked out of the castle becau One of my all-time favorites, this book is a masterpiece of symbolism. where do I start, I could write a thesis on this not a review. I had to read it with google by my side, every sentence held a hidden meaning. Just as Orwell used animals in a farm to denote a “higher form of life” i.e. humans and tackle their taboos, Mahfouz used humans to symbolize prophets and religious figures. Novel starts with Gebalawi (God) the owner of the alley whose son Adham (Adam) was kicked out of the castle because of his greedy desires. Another son that Gebalwai denounced is the bad guy Idriss (Iblees, devil). Symbolism carries on with 4 major leaders sections in the book: Jabal (Moses), Rafaha (Jesus), kassem (Mohammad) and Arafa (Science/knowledge, last of the prophets)… you figure out and savor the details by yourself. What I liked about the book is that it is not intended to ridicule religion like other authors (Rushdie in Satanic Verses) did, it was more of a study of human psychology and history of their societies/ religious trends... could have been called: a “brief history of religion”. For more context, author received Nobel prize for this book and a related assassination attempt which left him injured for 12 years before his death

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jay Bobman

    I had to read this book for a middle-eastern literature class, and it was far my favorite story/novel we have read in class! I felt like the allegories throughout the story were just distant enough from the stories/myths they derived from that it made it feel almost like a series of new stories at first. My favorite story was probably Adham, however, I got really frustrated with him as his story went on. Throughout the book, before the estate starts expanding and sharing some of its wealth, it s I had to read this book for a middle-eastern literature class, and it was far my favorite story/novel we have read in class! I felt like the allegories throughout the story were just distant enough from the stories/myths they derived from that it made it feel almost like a series of new stories at first. My favorite story was probably Adham, however, I got really frustrated with him as his story went on. Throughout the book, before the estate starts expanding and sharing some of its wealth, it seems as if the people who live in the alley are very community-oriented and spend a lot of time being mad at “God” (Gabalawi) for being so selfish by hoarding His money. I felt like this was a great comparison and criticism of more modern economic societies, mainly capitalism.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Zahraa

    I don't see what's the big deal about this book for it to win its author a Nobel Prize. It clearly was a re telling of adam&eve/Moses/Jesus/Mohamed stories, which I don't have a problem with, but it became very predictable and it couldn't keep me interested. I don't see what's the big deal about this book for it to win its author a Nobel Prize. It clearly was a re telling of adam&eve/Moses/Jesus/Mohamed stories, which I don't have a problem with, but it became very predictable and it couldn't keep me interested.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Karn Kher

    Life goes on in the Alley. Story of an alley in Middle East/Egypt across generations, this is a simple tale that encompasses many religions. In a way it's the story of humanity, of our frailty, our weaknesses, the occasional bursts of strengths and our instinct to survive. One might compare it with 100 years of solitude and realize how similar situations can be so distinctly written. Read it if you want to read something grand yet simple. Life goes on in the Alley. Story of an alley in Middle East/Egypt across generations, this is a simple tale that encompasses many religions. In a way it's the story of humanity, of our frailty, our weaknesses, the occasional bursts of strengths and our instinct to survive. One might compare it with 100 years of solitude and realize how similar situations can be so distinctly written. Read it if you want to read something grand yet simple.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nour Samir

    a masterpiece ! what i like the most that he insisted that it is a novel not a real story characters.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Muhammed Farrag

    Conversely beautiful ... can't say more Conversely beautiful ... can't say more

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jaleel Shaker

    I see why this is so controversial but it's not why I didn't like it. Poorly written, boring, unoriginal and dry as bones. An extra star cuz there's a character named Jaleel. I see why this is so controversial but it's not why I didn't like it. Poorly written, boring, unoriginal and dry as bones. An extra star cuz there's a character named Jaleel.

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