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Posted October 13, 2016 by

The Beggar –  Naguib Mahfouz – 1965

Posted by moana on 1/7/2003, 7:25:58

As promised, a post from a state of not-quite-complete lucidity ;).

So, The Beggar! by Naguib Mahfouz. I picked this book out because of a recommendation from a teacher, so I had no idea what to expect upon reading it. I was pleasantly surprised that the style was so poetic (mostly due to the narrator being a poet)… verses like:

“Let me be a sentence never uttered by a tongue before.”

So good, so fresh, lyrical but not overwhelming.

There was apparently a political theme running through the book, but I didn’t pick it up much even on a second reading. What I did pick up was the contrast between our protagonist, Omar, and his two friends, Mustapha and Othman.

Othman – the radical, the revolutionary

Mustapha – the nonchalant, let-go persona who seems to accept everything.

I suppose Omar lies somewhere in the middle, seeking out his ideals and being torn by his idea of “illness” of spirit.

Speaking of illness, I was ready to sympathize with Omar if he would only stop talking about his so-called ‘illness’. Is this the name he gives to make people pity him or forgive his mid-life crisis? I didn’t really understand the illness of apathy that he describes, perhaps because I’ve never experienced it, but it just rang false to me.

The idea of love springs up again and again throughout the novel. Buthayna, with her love towards the secret of existence, of purpose, seems to me the purest of the characters, if a bit naive. Omar talks about love and rekindling love, but he goes through dozens of women and never seems to love any of them.

Oh, and do you agree with – I think it was Mustapha- who said “Happiness is more important than poetry.” ? Does that contradict the spirit of the book, written so poetically?

And one more thing that seemed a bit out of place to me:

“So why not take a trip in space? Ride the light waves, for their speed is fixed, the only fixed thing in the constantly changing, insanely reeling universe.

The first spacemen have arrived, selling microbes, selling lies.”

It just kind of fell out of the sky, and as I don’t really see this book as a diatribe against technology or knowledge, I can’t imagine what it might mean. Any thoughts? (that’s the monologue at the end of chapter 5, if you want to find it in context)

Wow, this is quite tangential. Sorry about the all the wandering ideas…

But hey! I liked the book! 4 stars! any comments, rebuttals, explanations… I look forward to them all 😛

~moana (now older and wiser ;)… well, maybe not wiser )

 ~~

Posted by Liliana on 1/7/2003, 20:44:24

After finishing this book, instead of getting a feeling of having gained something from it, I just realised how much I ignore… Anyway, I must state a disclaimer here: I feel that the translation (into English) of Mahfouz’ Beggar “mutilates” its story. Perhaps I should have read it in Spanish or in French, but c’est la vie.

I found the book quite depressing. Each of the characters is nicely delineated in its attitudes towards life. What interested me the most was to read how three people (Omar, Mustapha and Othman) who shared a youth dream and, unfortunately, used the wrong means to demonstrate their dissatisfaction, have a completely different outlook in life a few years later. You all know what happens to Omar…I personally think he was just too spoiled by life and thus became bored. Mustapha was smarter. He makes an effort to cope with his everyday life (or at least with two aspects of it: his marriage and work): “My attachment to my wife is based on reality and on habit. My work is a means of livelihood.” There you go: discipline on the one hand, and need on the other one. Othman, who basically spent a large part of his life in prison, has an even more astonishing view of it: he still holds his beliefs of what he fought for in his youth, yet he moves on to make a living and well… at the end he was drawn back to his beginnings, but at least he found a meaning in life. Omar just lets himself die with the question; he is seeking an answer but refuses to provide one.

Overall I liked the book (with its depressing story), but I wished I knew more about the history and culture of Egypt, so I could suck on the marrow of the story. I hope that reviews by other readers provide me with some insight.

Liliana Rodriguez-Maynez

 ~~

Posted by Lale on 1/7/2003, 21:22:34

I agree with Liliana that the translation was not that great. But some of the fault lies with the author. This is a 136-page story and the words poet, poetry, poem and poetic are used 83 times. The words ecstacy, art, science, love and life are also repeated relentlessly. Yes, some of the sentences are very very lyrical such as “the dawn was speechless” but the overuse of some words annoyed me.

Omar’s “illness” defence is ridiculous. To search cure in hired-women … He was unnecessarily rude to his wife. He was infatuated with one night-club lady one night, and when she left the town the next day, he didn’t think twice going to another night-club and looking for another lady. All this to cure the *illness*.

The political thread was underdevelopped and therefore seemed to be superflous. Why does Othman remain in prison even after the revolution? Omar says “our side came to power”, yes, so why keep the political prisoners in jail? There is no good reason for Othman to continue to be in jail even after the power change, the power he was fighting to change! And then, why were they after him again? The end was less than satisfactory. The climax was not delivered. If I have understood correctly, Omar is wounded (collarbone) and Othman is arrested. And I was dissappointed.

More later,

Lale

 ~~

Posted by Jon Elias on 2/7/2003, 14:12:51

I have an exam this Friday, so, unfortunately, my review has to wait.

Yesterday, I bought the July and August (?) books, Confessions of Zeno and Memoirs of Hadrian, at Sydney’s leading second-hand bookshop, Gleebooks 191. (Is it like The Strand of New York?). Also I bought Carpentier’s The Lost Steps (Month of July’s second runner-up), and Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask.

By the way, did anyone realised that Mahfouz’s used both first person and third person in The Beggar? Did you find it intriguing?

 ~~

Posted by Lale on 2/7/2003, 14:38:18

: By the way, did anyone realised that Mahfouz’s used

: both first person and third person in The Beggar?

: Did you find it intriguing?

First, third and *second* persons. Sometimes it is “I”, sometimes it is “you” and sometimes it is “he”. I like that style. We have seen it elsewhere before. Patrick White in “The Vivisector” also uses second and third persons but not the first person.

Lale

 ~~

Posted by len on 2/7/2003, 15:06:56

>By the way, did anyone realised that Mahfouz’s used both first person and third person in The Beggar? Did you find it intriguing?

To which Lale replies:

>First, third and *second* persons. Sometimes it is “I”, sometimes it is “you” and sometimes it is “he”. I like that style.

I found it annoying and unwarranted. Clever and different yes, but to what end? The sudden changes in perspective were jarring and seemed to be random and arbitrary. Perhaps there was some underlying rationale that a close study of the context would unearth.

I’m pretty much in agreement with the assessments so far.

len.

 ~~

Posted by Liliana on 2/7/2003, 21:15:45

This is an interesting comment. Quite often when you read in Spanish you find the use of the different persons (the I, He, and You) – and I quite enjoy that. I guess I am just used to it. However, I also found it a bit confusing at times when I read this in English. I know this sounds obsessive, but I feel definitely that we lost so much in the translation of this book.

 ~~

Posted by Rizwan on 2/7/2003, 21:33:08

: I feel definitely that we lost so much

: in the translation of this book.

Liliana, you are not alone in feeling this way. Many Arabic-speaking critics complain about the same thing in general with the translations of Mahfouz’s books. The translators, apparently, do not do justice to Mahfouz’s prose. As Edward Said put it in a recent essay called “The Cruelty of Memory” in the New York Review of Books:

“To Arab readers Mahfouz does in fact have a distinctive voice, which displays a remarkable mastery of language yet does not call attention to itself. But in English he sounds like each of his translators, most of whom (with one or two exceptions) are not stylists and, I am sorry to say, appear not to have completely understood what he is really about.”

I don’t speak or read Arabic, but like you, Liliana, I’m willing to give Mahfouz the benefit of the doubt when it comes to complaints about his prose.

 ~~

Posted by Jon Elias on 3/7/2003, 4:11:10

: I found it annoying and unwarranted. Clever and

: different yes, but to what end? The sudden changes

: in perspective were jarring and seemed to be random

: and arbitrary. Perhaps there was some underlying

: rationale that a close study of the context would

: unearth.

I have a different opinion from you, Len, as I actually loved it. The second person narrative is especially poignant, although somewhat melodramatic. I’ll expand on what I’ve just said later, promise.

J E

 ~~

Posted by Lale on 6/7/2003, 9:55:51

: To which Lale replies:

: >First, third and *second*

: persons. Sometimes it is

: “I”, sometimes it is “you” and

: sometimes it is “he”. I like that style.

To which Len replies:

: I found it annoying and unwarranted.

Len, my French teacher would agree with you.

Last month, I wrote a story in French, as the final paper for my expression écrite class. In the story, there are two pregnant women, one of them the narrator (ok, me.) Sometimes the narration uses “we”, and sometimes it uses “the pregnant women” (i.e. “they”). The paper came back, red with all the teacher’s corrections. She had changed every occurrence of “they” into “we”.

There isn’t a lot of room for experimentation and originality at Sorbonne.

Lale

 ~~

Posted by Hanh on 9/7/2003, 9:18:41

: I have a different opinion from you, Len, as I actually

: loved it. The second person narrative is especially

: poignant, although somewhat melodramatic. I’ll

: expand on what I’ve just said later, promise.

I agree with you, Jon.

The use of multiple narrative perspectives is used often in movies, where the audience sees everything from a 3rd person perspective, then one of the characters would speak as if to himself (2nd person narrative), and we (the audience) are privy to both–it lends deeper dimensions to understanding the whole thing. As I read the book, the switch in narrative perspective opens up that same “full view” for me as a reader.

 ~~

Posted by Anna van Gelderen on 2/7/2003, 14:16:19

Here is a first brief reaction; I will write more, when I have the time.

Lale, you must have been too busy to count the 83 occurrences of the words poet, poetry, poem and poetic to do proper justice to the book 😉

First of all, the political thread may come across as underdeveloped (I think it does), but it is certainly not superfluous. In fact, it – or rather the political idealism of the characters’ younger years – underlies everything that is going on. Omar’s “disease” is caused by guilt about walking off scotfree while his buddy Othman is caught and sentenced to a long jail sentence.

Also Othman is not a political prisoner – not in the sense that I (and Amnesty International) understand the term. He is in prison because he committed an act of violence, so of course he isn’t released when the regime changes, no matter that his crime was committed for political motives.

I do agree that Omar comes across as a selfabsorbed, selfish and weak man. The way he treats his wife is unfair, blaming her for his success and wealth, as though he never had a choice in the matter. His reaction to his guilt over Othman’s jail sentence seems misdirected and comes too late. The way he uses all these women is close to despicable. I even have the suspicion that he uses his political guilt partly as an excuse for what is in fact a stupid midlife crisis.

A little earlier I said that the political theme was underdeveloped, in spite of its underlying Omar’s illness and therefore just about everything in the novel. This is because we don’t hear the real reason for Omar’s guilt until near the end of the book, when Othman is released. Before that there are merely a lot of very vague hints. Maybe an Egyptian audience, wellversed in the political situation of the 1960s, would have picked these hints up more easily, but for me they remained vague, just something to do with youthful political idealism – until I learned what had really happended.

Now to come back to the words poetry and poem: I don’t think this was overdone. Of course the novel is permeated with them, because poetry is a very important theme. It stands for the anti-thesis of material wealth, for ideals, for Omar’s political commitment when he was young, and especially for his lost youth. He thinks it is the antidote to the material success he has come to feel so burdened with. But of course, one can never recover one’s youth.

As for my general reaction to the book: I was often exasperated with Omar (for the reasons sketched above), but a lot of the writing is beautifully done and when you read this small but rather complex book closely you are bound to be rewarded.

So far for now. I hope to write more later.

Anna (taking a late lunch break at the office)

 ~~

Posted by Lale on 2/7/2003, 15:00:37

: Lale, you must have been too busy to count the 83

: occurrences of the words poet, poetry, poem and

: poetic to do proper justice to the book 😉

When I am reading a book, if I notice a thread (which I may find positive or negative) within the first few pages, then I start underlining them with pencil. It doesn’t take me any longer than reading the book since I do it as I go along. I had underlined all the names that were dropped in “Straight Man” and then I looked them all up and posted them here. I also counted the number of occurrences of “she/he shrugged her/his shoulders” in Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Mandarins” (140). I also, in “Austerlitz”, noted the number of pages (in one instance, 11) some sentences run. When I am reading I pay attention to those things, it is part of the pleasure for me. It also helps me find editorial mistakes (as in “A House for Mr. Biswas” ~ “The window itself, ill-fitting lengths of unmatched wood held together by two cross-bars split by massive nails that had been hammered back flat and grown rusty, the window itself was rectangular and was unable to fill the rhomboid vacancy.” page 142)

: First of all, the political thread may come across as

: underdeveloped (I think it does), but it is

: certainly not superfluous.

It is not superfluous, it is obvious that it was author’s main goal. It *seems* superfluous because, in my opinion, it was not dealt with properly. I said it seemed so, in response to Moana’s, the in-house genius, comment: “There was apparently a political theme running through the book, but I didn’t pick it up much even on a second reading.” I meant to say that it was not the reader’s (Moana’s) fault that the political theme seemed redundant or not immediately accessible, but that it was because the author had failed to bring it to life as good as it could have been.

Lale

 ~~

Posted by len. on 2/7/2003, 15:54:46

Lale writes:

>I meant to say that it was not the reader’s (Moana’s) fault that the political theme seemed redundant or not immediately accessible, but that it was because the author had failed to bring it to life as good as it could have been.

I think that was, as someone else noted, because the author justifiably assumed that the political context was already known to the reader.

len.

 ~~

Posted by Liliana on 2/7/2003, 21:25:08

Why was Omar so afraid to look back to his poetry?? Was it the poetry, or the memories of those years as a rebel young man? (and its consequences, of course – does he get a guilt trip every time he thinks about with friend in jail?) Why does he see it as a threat?? Obviously Mahfouz believes that you can either be a poet OR something else, but not both (you can find this statement in some of his editorials).

And I bring this up because I have met quite a few people who believe that poetry cannot be written by people with “normal” lives (or, to put it in other words, by people who are not depressed or who do not go out to the streets and fight against whatever is trendy to protest). Do you believe in this?

 ~~

Posted by Rizwan on 2/7/2003, 22:12:27

: people who believe that poetry cannot be written by

: people with “normal” lives (or, to put it

: in other words, by people who are not depressed or

: who do not go out to the streets and fight against

: whatever is trendy to protest). Do you believe in

: this?

I don’t believe in this. No question there have been tortured artists who produced great poetry. But there have been just as many “normal” people who produced great poetry, too. For example, by all accounts, the Spanish poet/dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca was, until his tragic murder by Gen. Franco’s henchmen, the happiest, most passionate person any of his friends had ever met. Likewise, when one thinks of the great Walt Whitman, depression is not exactly the first thought that comes to mind, especially if you read beyond “Leaves of Grass” and delve into his prose works “Democratic Vistas” and “Specimen Days.” And then there’s that guy named Shakespeare. Whether you are a Stratfordian or Oxfordian in the authorship debate, remember that good ol’ Billy was equally adept at light-hearted comedy and romance as he was at profound tragedy. Not that this proves anything, necessarily, but it is suggestive.

 ~~

Posted by Jon Elias on 3/7/2003, 6:56:32

–Previous Message–

: Obviously Mahfouz believes that you can

: either be a poet OR something else, but not both

: (you can find this statement in some of his

: editorials).

Remember what Maria Vargas Llosa said once, you can’t be a politician and a writer at the same time.

 ~~

Posted by Jon Elias on 3/7/2003, 6:59:02

: : –Previous Message–

: Obviously Mahfouz believes that you can

: either be a poet OR something else, but not both

: (you can find this statement in some of his

: editorials).

: Remember what Maria Vargas Llosa said once, you can’t

: be a politician and a writer at the same time.

My mistake, it’s “MariO” and not “MariA”

J E

 ~~

Posted by len on 3/7/2003, 14:26:43

Liliana asks:

>Why was Omar so afraid to look back to his poetry?? Was it the poetry, or the memories of those years as a rebel young man? (and its consequences, of course – does he get a guilt trip every time he thinks about with friend in jail?) Why does he see it as a threat??

I think this is the crux of my problem with this story. While it was an “enjoyable read”, I got nothing from it but unanswered (and unanswerable) questions. Here are a half dozen or so genuinely interesting characters, whose behaviours demonstrate all the richness and contradictions of the human experience, but the author gives us only the barest of hints of insight into why they must or choose to behave the way they do.

I don’t think this is the fault of the translation, which I agree was at best serviceable.

len.

 ~~

Posted by Liliana on 6/7/2003, 3:23:51

I agree, Len. Translation is not the only factor. I believe there is something else missing. Part of the message is not being transferred -or, who knows, perhaps we are not receptive. I guess it is a cultural thing that people who were not involved, close or, at least, heard about the issues happening at the time in Egypt, can’t really appreciate.

I think the author is just providing enough words to push certain buttons in people, which can then be converted into specific feelings. Not everything is told, and perhaps the book was never meant to tell everything. It was not meant to be a “best seller” (kind of a “standard model reading”) but it was directed towards a specific audience. This is a bravo for Mahfouz. I really appreciate this characteristic in an author, even when it prevents me from feeling satisfied with the book.

 ~~

Posted by Lale on 6/7/2003, 10:02:45

Dear H & H,

Have you guys not read this 136-page nouvella? Where are you?

Lale

 ~~

Posted by Hanh on 9/7/2003, 9:12:47

Yikes! I know I showed up WAY too late for this party! The hors d’oeuvres are gone, the lentils are tupperwared away. I must apologize profusely, but I hope better late than never, even if the valet parking attendants have already gone home.

Here’s my $0.02 worth on The Beggar.

If Omar had really wanted meaning to his life, he could have served his country, he was in the position to be one of Egypt’s elite. But what he really is, is a petit bourgeosie who is more concerned with his own material security and conformity to the cultural ruts of his life, than real meaningful purpose. So he hides behind the veil of undefined illness, behind a search for meaning in life, behind petty affairs to cover up his self-absorbed selfishness (perhaps even to himself).

The irony is, the meaning which Omar sought, the things that could have given his life purpose–service to his country, devotion to his craft/his poetry, commitment to his family–he rejected outright, meanwhile he searches everywhere else for that “something” as an excuse. He wastes his time in futile searches when he could be productive. It is Omar who deserted the world which needed him, and not the world which abandoned him to an existence devoid of value. He has no altruistic motive (evidenced by his treatment of his family and friends, whom he use to get things for himself) and no social morality, hence he suffers also from lack of individual morality, because the two are inter-related.

Omar is the symbol of what is wrong with Arab society (and in all societies): he is a self-absorbed, priviledged person, who rather than provide leadership and service to his people and country, lives a self-absorbed life with no sense of social responsiblity. Rather than use his gifts to give back to society and family, he becomes lost in self-centered quixotic searches.

The verse he remembered at the end recaps his empty ventures succinctly, ‘If you really wanted me, why did you desert me’? Omar never really wanted true meaningful purpose to his life, otherwise he would not have deserted everything in it that would have given it meaning.

I like do like the book, but I think I read it too fast to do it credit, so in terms of hearts rating, I’ll give it a 3.

 ~~

Posted by Hanh on 9/7/2003, 9:26:44

: Omar is the symbol of what is wrong with Arab society

: (and in all societies): he is a self-absorbed,

: priviledged person, who rather than provide

: leadership and service to his people and country,

: lives a self-absorbed life with no sense of social

: responsiblity. Rather than use his gifts to give

: back to society and family, he becomes lost in

: self-centered quixotic searches.

I think that this is also the reason why this novel is a “political” novel. I think that Mahfouz wrote it with a purposing of conveying a message that people should be socially responsible, should develop not only a social conscience but act on it as a duty to themselves and to humanity. He didn’t write it just for the sake of story telling.

 ~~

Posted by Lale on 9/7/2003, 10:31:22

: Yikes! I know I showed up WAY too late for this party!

: The hors d’oeuvres are gone, the lentils are

: tupperwared away. I must apologize profusely, but I

: hope better late than never, even if the valet

: parking attendants have already gone home.

Hanh, without you it is no party.

: Here’s my $0.02 worth on The Beggar.

That’s $0.0336 in Canadian.

: be one of Egypt’s elite. But what he really is, is

: a petit bourgeosie who is more concerned with his

: own material security and conformity to the cultural

He is definitely a petit bourgeois, but should we not believe him when he says he doesn’t care if his three apartments were taken from him? Hi wife is concerned and he makes light of it. I believed him. But then again, this happened at the beginning of the story before I came to despise him.

Hanh, do you have any answers to these two questions I asked at the beginning of this thread:

1 – Why does Othman remain in prison even after the revolution? Omar says “our side came to power”, yes, so why keep the political prisoners in jail? There is no good reason for Othman to continue to be in jail even after the power change, the power he was fighting to change!

2 – And then, why were they after him again?

I give the book 2.5 hearts.

Lale

~~

Posted by Anna van Gelderen on 9/7/2003, 16:43:01

: Hanh, do you have any answers to these two questions I

: asked at the beginning of this thread:

: 1 – Why does Othman remain in prison even after the

: revolution? Omar says “our side came to

: power”, yes, so why keep the political

: prisoners in jail? There is no good reason for

: Othman to continue to be in jail even after the

: power change, the power he was fighting to change!

Lale, please pay attention in class: I told you that before. He is not a political prisoner who is in jail because of his convictions, but because he committed an act of violence – which is a crime punishable by law under any regime, no matter for what political reason it is committed. So of course the regime change made no difference.

Anna (who has been an active member of Amnesty International for several years and knows a little about political prisoners)

PS Three to three and a half hearts for me

 ~~

Posted by Lale on 9/7/2003, 20:02:40

: Lale, please pay attention in class: I told you that

: before. He is not a political prisoner who is in

: jail because of his convictions, but because he

: committed an act of violence – which is a crime

Oooops. Sorry. I have been distracted these days.

Thank you.

Why are they after him now?

Lale

 ~~

Posted by Hanh on 10/7/2003, 0:14:12

: He is definitely a petit bourgeois, but should we not

: believe him when he says he doesn’t care if his

: three apartments were taken from him? Hi wife is

: concerned and he makes light of it. I believed him.

: But then again, this happened at the beginning of

: the story before I came to despise him.

I don’t think he is a person who can critically self-examine. I think he believes his own delusions, but he is not intellectually honest. That is, at the time he most probably does feel that he doesn’t care if his three apartments were taken from him, however if/when they are actually taken from him, he would change his tune.

I think Mahfouz means for Omar to be the kind of person who would change his mind when it suits his purpose. Note that even as he is searching for meaning, he frequents only the places where the rich frequent. Even as he says he doesn’t care that his wealth is taken away, he only frequent places that caters to the wealthy. Nothing stops him from returning to poetry, a passtime more enlightening than having affairs, but he is not looking for noble meaning in life, even as he pretends to do so.

: 1 – Why does Othman remain in prison even after the

: revolution? Omar says “our side came to

: power”, yes, so why keep the political

: prisoners in jail? There is no good reason for

: Othman to continue to be in jail even after the

: power change, the power he was fighting to change!

I don’t feel Mahfouz gives us enough background on this one either. Anna said (makes sense to me too), that he’s in jail for murder, not for political collusions. Which brings another question to the fore: even in their youth, were they really revolutionaries? or were they only playing the game, and hurt people without producing any real victory for the causes of Egypt.

: 2 – And then, why were they after him again?

I didn’t get the feeling they were after him again, but I think that’s because I read the book to fast and missed that point. What I did get is the sense that he too, abandoned his zeal for “the cause” and became simply a discusser of ideals and not realizer of them.

This book reminds me a bit of some of the zealots in the exiled Vietnamese community. These people go on soc.culture.vietnamese and fume for screens on end about how they will recapture Viet Nam from the communists. HA! They’re sitting in condos sipping beer, typing on the computer in America, frothing over what “we” will do to bring about this coup d’etat! Some of them were BORN in the U.S. and don’t even speak Viet Namese. They post in English.

I think there are parallels in this novel with the political quagmire in many developing countries, where the elite do not have the courage to take leadership and contribute to the society, to general good outside their own immediate needs. It may be human nature, but I think it’s what Mahfouz aims to say is the way we ought NOT to be.

 ~~

Posted by len on 10/7/2003, 15:18:51

Hahn observes, with her usual insight:

>I don’t think he is a person who can critically self-examine. I think he believes his own delusions, but he is not intellectually honest. … I think Mahfouz means for Omar to be the kind of person who would change his mind when it suits his purpose.

Yes, that is about the only inference one can draw about him from the way Mahfouz depicts him. Such people are usually called “unprincipled”.

>Note that even as he is searching for meaning, he frequents only the places where the rich frequent. Even as he says he doesn’t care that his wealth is taken away, he only frequents places that cater to the wealthy. Nothing stops him from returning to poetry, a passtime more enlightening than having affairs, but he is not looking for noble meaning in life, even as he pretends to do so.

Perhaps more telling, even these affairs fail to assuage his “illness”, which doesn’t even deserve to be dignified as existential angst. At least the analogous vapidity of Port and Kit in The Sheltering Sky was countered by their “traveler” ambitions.

>Which brings another question to the fore: even in their youth, were they really revolutionaries? or were they only playing the game, and hurt people without producing any real victory for the causes of Egypt.

One is reminded of some ’60s era “countercultural” self styled revolutionaries, who were more about being against something than for something.

len.

 ~~

Posted by Lale on 10/7/2003, 21:50:59

: : 2 – And then, why were they after him again?

: I didn’t get the feeling they were after him again, but

: I think that’s because I read the book to fast and

: missed that point.

They were after him. That’s why he found Omar. To tell him that he was now married to his daughter, she was pregnant and he was not going to be around to look after them because they were coming to get him and put him in jail again. And as he was trying to explain all this to Omar, they did come. The bullet Omar got in the collar bone was meant for Othman.

: What I did get is the sense that

: he too, abandoned his zeal for “the cause”

: and became simply a discusser of ideals and not

: realizer of them.

No no, he had not lost the zeal or abandoned the cause. Since he was in jail, he was able to stay “pure”. He didn’t earn a lot of money like the others did and he didn’t even know how things have changed in the outside world. That’s why, Omar’s daughter fell for him, a man of his father’s age, but unlike his father (or like she would have wanted her father to be), he had remained honest and protected his ideology.

: I think there are parallels in this novel with the

: political quagmire in many developing countries,

: where the elite do not have the courage to take

: leadership and contribute to the society, to general

: good outside their own immediate needs. It may be

: human nature, but I think it’s what Mahfouz aims to

: say is the way we ought NOT to be.

Turkey is also full of this kind of elite.

I know many Omars.

I also understand the Viet Nam example you have given. We have seen situations like that too. But now everyone has given up on Turkey, so no hypocrisy left 😉

Lale

 ~~

Posted by Hanh on 11/7/2003, 4:41:19

I rushed through the ending too fast so I missed a lot of what you picked up about Othman. My bad! I’ll try not to procrastinate on Zeno’s Conscience. 🙂

 ~~

Posted by Liliana on 14/7/2003, 16:25:30

Ooooooh! They were after him big time!

Actually, I can’t remember if the author tells exactly why they were after him or not, but I do remember that the author implies that he probably couldn’t help himself and ended up doing something “out of passion” to fight the regime again.

 ~~

Posted by Howard on 20/7/2003

Hi all, here is my late contribution to the discussion of The Beggar before we move onto the Zeno’s Conscience.

I’ve read a lot about Mahfouz and expected this to be a difficult book. I found it surprisingly accessible – it reminded me of Camus’ L’Etranger on account of its style (and the North African setting). However this was where I thought the similarities ended.

Moana noted that there was a political theme running through this story. I interpreted it as being the dissillusionment with the political system by middle class Egyptians like Omar with their “Dreams of Utopia” who had supported the 1952 revolution.

As regards Othman, I wasn’t entirely in agreement with Anna’s theory that Othman was not a political prisoner. I thought it was possible that he may have been considered *too radical* by the revolutionary regime to be released after they took control and conveniently kept under lock and key until he had served his sentence. His statement that “any visitors other than family members would have been arrested” suggests that he may have been considered more than a common criminal.

Overall I enjoyed this book and would have liked to give it four hearts. However the ending spoilt it for me so my vote is three and a half hearts.

 ~~

Posted by Jon Elias on 22/7/2003, 21:36:20

“And since there’s no revelation in our age, people like you can only go begging.” (p 76)

“Poetry is the other voice, Octavio Paz wrote, “Not the voice of history or of anti-history, but the voice which, in history, is always saying something different”.

“Something different”. Is a poet, therefore, an innocent bystander or chronicler of momentous events? Always assertive with his/her judgements, an ideal jury of our civilisation?

In Mahfouz’s THE BEGGAR, the poet is represented by Buthayna, the protagonist’s daughter. “She’s a beautiful girl, intelligent, studious, refined, poetic” (p 73). She’s also an inquirer, not afraid to ask the dark, almost rude questions of life (“There’s no other woman?” p75)

There’s another poet in this book, of course, a former one. Omar, our protagonist, is a successful, wealthy lawyer living in Cairo (“You virtually forgotten how to walk. You eat the best food, drink good wine…” p 10) who may (or may not) be suffering from what is commonly called as a ‘bourgeois disease’. His condition is agonizing and paralyzing, and he wants a prescription to cure this disease.

“The important thing is to understand life,” was the medical advice given to Omar by his doctor friend Musthapa. To understand life?

I must confess, this must be one of the most beautiful, thought-provoking novel I’ve read. I absolutely loved this one- people outside Read Literature circle should experience this little known masterpiece.

No, this is absolutely not a Moby Dick of Merville- with an exciting narrative, packed with memorable, captivating characters, locations and story-line. The magic of this novel can be felt not after but during the experience of reading it- when you are constantly reminding yourself “This is me, this is my age, I can see myself here.”

Yes, you can see yourself as Omar- sinful, tough, insensitive, womaniser, human. Or Buthayna. Or Zeinab- martyr, loving, forgiving, accomodating, human.

But this, above all, is a novel of loneliness, yearning and alienation. As John Rodenback said of the book, “(This) is a complex and passionate outcry against irrelevance and against what is likely to follow- alienation.”

I give it four stars.

The Beggar, The Thief and the Dogs, Autumn Quail
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