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ANCHOR BOOKS, DOUBLEDAY, and the portrayal of an anchor are trademarks of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The English translation of Miramar was first published by The American University in Cairo Press in 1978.
First published in Arabic as Miramar in 1967.
Protected under the Berne Convention.
The Anchor Books edition is published by arrangement with The American University in Cairo Press.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Mahfūz, Najīb, 1912–
Miramar / Naguib Mahfouz; translated by Fatma Moussa Mahmoud; edited and revised by Maged el Kommos and John Rodenbeck. —
Translation of: Mīrāmār.
eBook ISBN 9781785350405
Copyright © 1967 by Naguib Mahfouz
English-language translation copyright © 1978 by The American University in Cairo Press
1. Amer Wagdi
2. Hosny Allam
3. Mansour Bahy
4. Sarhan al-Beheiry
5. Amer Wagdi
About the Author
Books by Naguib Mahfouz
1. Amer Wagdi
Alexandria. At last. Alexandria, Lady of the Dew. Bloom of white nimbus. Bosom of radiance, wet with sky water. Core of nostalgia steeped in honey and tears.
The massive old building confronts me once again. How could I fail to recognize it? I have always known it. And yet it regards me as if we had shared no past. Walls paintless from the damp, it commands and dominates the tongue of land, planted with palms and leafy acacias, that protrudes out into the Mediterranean to a point where in season you can hear shotguns cracking incessantly.
My poor stooped body cannot stand up to the potent young breeze out here. Not anymore.
Mariana, my dear Mariana, let us hope you’re still where we could always find you. You must be. There’s not much time left; the world is changing fast and my weak eyes under their thinning white brows can no longer comprehend what they see.
Alexandria, I am here.
On the fourth floor I ring the bell of the flat. The little judas opens, showing Mariana’s face. Much changed, my dear! It’s dark on the landing; she does not recognize me. Her white face and golden hair gleam in the light from a window open somewhere behind her.
“Do you have any vacant rooms?”
The door opens. The bronze statue of the Madonna receives me. In the air of the place is a kind of fragrance that has haunted me.
We stand looking at each other. She is tall and slim, with her golden hair, and seems to be in good health, though her shoulders are a little bowed and the hair is obviously dyed. Veins show through the skin of her hands and forearms; there are telltale wrinkles at the corners of her mouth. You must be sixty-five at least, my dear. But there is still something of the old glamour left. I wonder if you’ll remember me.
She looks me over. At first she examines me; then the blue eyes blink. Ah, you remember! And my self comes back to me.
“Oh! It’s you.”
We shake hands warmly—“Goodness me! Amer Bey! Monsieur Amer!”—and she laughs out loud with emotion (the long feminine laugh of the fishwives of Anfushi!), throwing all formality to the winds. Together we sit down on the ebony settee beneath the Madonna, our reflections gleaming on the front of a glassed bookcase that has always stood in this hall, if only as an ornament. I look around.
“The place hasn’t changed a bit.”
“Oh, but it has,” she protests. “It’s been redecorated a number of times. And there are many new things. The chandelier. The screen. And the radio.”
“I’m so glad to have found you here, Mariana. Thank heaven you’re in good health.”
“And so are you, Monsieur Amer—touch wood.”
“I’m not at all well. I’m suffering from colitis and prostate trouble. But God be thanked all the same!”
“Why have you come here now? The season’s over.”
“I’ve come to stay. How long is it since I saw you last?”
“Since…since…did you say ‘to stay’?”
“Yes, my dear. I can’t have seen you for some twenty years.”
“It’s true. You never turned up once during all that time.”
“I was busy.”
“I bet you came to Alexandria often enough.”
“Sometimes. But I was too busy. You know what a journalist’s life is like.”
“I also know what men are like.”
“My dear Mariana, you are Alexandria to me.”
“You’re married, of course.”
“No. Not yet.”
“And when will you marry, monsieur?” she asks teasingly.
“No wife, no family. And I’ve retired.” I reply somewhat irritably. “I’m finished.” She encourages me to go on with a wave of her hand. “I felt the call of my birthplace. Alexandria. And since I’ve no relations I’ve turned to the only friend the world has left me.”
“It’s nice to find a friend in such loneliness.”
“Do you remember the good old days?”
“It’s all gone,” she says wistfully.
“But we have to go on living,” I murmur.
When we start discussing the rent, however, she can still drive as hard a bargain as ever. The pension is all she has; she has had to take in winter guests, even if they are those awful students; and to get them she is forced to depend on middlemen and waiters in the hotels. She says it all with the sadness of humbled pride; and she puts me in number six, away from the seafront on the far side, at a reasonable rent, though I can retain my room in the summer only if I pay at the special summer rate for vacationers.
We settle everything in a few minutes, including the obligatory breakfast. She proves as good a businesswoman as ever, notwithstanding sweet memories and all that. When I tell her I’ve left my luggage at the station, she laughs.
“You were not so sure you’d find Mariana. Now you’ll stay here with me forever.”
I look at my hand and think of the mummies in the Egyptian Museum.
My room is pleasant enough, quite as good as any of the seaward rooms I used to occupy in the past. I have all the furniture I need. Comfortable, old-fashioned chairs. But there is no place for the books; I’d better leave them in the box and take out only a few at a time. The light here is not very good, a sort of constant twilight. My window opens onto a big air shaft, and the service stairs are so close that I can hear alley cats chasing up and down and cooks and chambermaids carrying on their affairs.
I made the round of all the rooms where I used to stay in summer; the pink, the violet, and the blue, all vacant now. There was a time when I stayed in each a summer or more, and though the old mirrors, the rich carpets, the silver lamps, and the cut-glass chandeliers are gone, a certain faded elegance lingers still on the papered walls and in the high c
Mariana sighs and I see her false teeth.
“Mine was a very select pension.”
“ ‘Glory be to Him who remaineth.’ ”
“These days, my guests in winter are mostly students. And in summer I take just anybody.”
“Amer Bey, will you please put in a good word for me?”
“Your Excellency,” I said to the Pasha, “the man is not very efficient, but he lost his son in the Cause and should be nominated for the seat.”
He backed my proposal. God rest his soul. My great master. He loved me and read everything I wrote with the keenest interest.
“You,” he said to me once, “are the nation’s throbbing cur.”
He said cur for core, God rest his soul, and it became a standing joke. A few old colleagues from the National Party heard the story and they’d always greet me with “Hello, you cur!” Those were the days—the glory of working for the Cause, independence, the nation! Amer Wagdi was someone indeed—full of favors for friends, but a man to be feared and avoided by enemies.
In my room I reminisce, read, or sleep. In the hall I can talk to Mariana or listen to the radio. If I need further entertainment there is the Miramar Café downstairs. It is not likely that I should see anyone I know, even in the Trianon. All my friends are gone. The good old days are over.
Alexandria, I know you in winter: you empty your streets and your squares at sunset, leaving them to solitude, wind, and rain, while your inner rooms are filled with chatter and warmth.
“ ‘…that old man shrouding his mummified form in a black suit that dates from the Flood.’ None of your long-winded rhetoric, please!” said that nonentity of an editor, so typical of these days. “Give us something a jet-age traveler can read.”
A jet-age traveler. What would you know, you fat moronic puppet? Writing is for men who can think and feel, not mindless sensation seekers out of nightclubs and bars. But these are bad times. We are condemned to work with upstarts, clowns who no doubt got their training in a circus and then turned to journalism as the appropriate place to display their tricks.
I sit in an armchair wearing my dressing gown. Mariana reclines on the ebony settee beneath the statue of the Madonna. Dance music is being played on the European program. I would rather listen to something different, but I hate to disturb her. She is completely absorbed in the music, just as she always used to be, nodding her head to its beat.
“We’ve always been friends, Mariana.”
“But we never made love, not once.”
“You went in for your plump countrywomen. Don’t deny it.”
“Except for that one incident. Do you remember?”
“Yes, you brought home a Frenchwoman and I insisted that you sign the register as Monsieur and Madame Amer.”
“I was discouraged by the multitude of your aristocratic admirers.”
She beams with pleasure. Mariana, let’s hope I may be the first of us two to go; no more shifting quarters. There you are, a living proof that the past was no illusion, even from the days of my great master down to the present moment.
“My dear sir, I’d like to say goodbye.” He looked at me, as usual not bothering to disguise his impatience. “At my age, I think I should retire.”
“We shall certainly miss you,” he answered with ill-concealed relief, “but I hope you’ll have a good time.”
That was all. A page of the newspaper’s history turned without a word of goodbye, a farewell party, or even a jet-age snippet at the bottom of a page. Nothing. The buggers! A man has no value to them at all unless he plays football or something.
As she sits there under the statue of the Madonna, I look at her and say, “Helen in her prime would not have looked as marvelous!”
She laughs. “Before you arrived, I used to sit here all alone waiting for someone, anyone I knew, to come through the door. I was always in dread of…of getting one of my kidney attacks.”
“I’m sorry. But where are your people?”
“They’ve gone, every one of them.” She purses her lips, showing her wrinkles. “I couldn’t leave—where should I go? I was born here. I’ve never even seen Athens. And after all, who’d want to nationalize a little pension like this?”
“Let us be true to our word and devoted to our work and may love, not law, control man’s dealings with man.” Look at us now. It was a kindness of God to give you death when he did—with a couple of statues as your memorial.
“Egypt’s your home. And there’s no place like Alexandria.”
The wind plays outside. The darkness steals up quietly. She rises, switches on two bulbs of the chandelier, and returns to her seat.
“I was a lady,” she says. “A lady in the full sense of the word.”
“You’re still a lady, Mariana.”
“Do you still drink the way you used to?”
“Just one drink at dinner. I eat very little. That’s why I can still move around.”
“Monsieur Amer, I don’t know how you can say there’s no place like Alexandria. It’s all changed. The streets nowadays are infested with canaille.”
“My dear, it had to be claimed by its people.” I try to comfort her and she retorts sharply.
“But we created it.”
“And you, do you still drink the way you did in the old days?”
“No! Not a drop. I’ve got kidney trouble.”
“We should make two fine museum pieces. But promise me you won’t go before I do.”
“Monsieur Amer, the first revolution killed my first husband. The second took my money and drove out my people. Why?”
“You’ve got enough, thank God. We are your people now. This sort of thing is happening everywhere.”
“What a strange world.”
“Can’t you tune the radio to the Arabic station?”
“No. Only for Umm Kulthum.”
“As you wish, my dear.”
“Tell me, why do people hurt one another? And why do we grow old?”
I smile, not saying a word. I look around at the walls, which are inscribed with Mariana’s history. There is the Captain’s portrait, in full dress, heavy-whiskered—her first husband, probably her first and only love, killed in the Revolution of 1919. On the other wall, above the bookcases, is the portrait of her old mother, a teacher. At the opposite end of the hall, beyond the screen, is her second husband, a rich grocer, “the Caviar King,” owner of the Ibrahimiya Palace. One day he went bankrupt and killed himself.
“When did you start this business of the pension?”
“You mean, when I was forced to open a boarding-house? In 1925. A black year.”
“Here I am, almost a prisoner in my house, and the hypocrites queue up to flatter the King.”
“All lies, Your Excellency.”
“I thought the Revolution had cured them of their weaknesses.”
“The true heart of the nation is on your side. Shall I read you tomorrow’s editorial?”
She sits there massaging her face with a piece of lemon.
“I was a lady, Monsieur Amer. Living the easy life and loving it. Lights, luxury, fine clothes, and big parties. I would grace a salon with my presence. Like the sun.”
“I saw you then.”
“You saw me only as a landlady.”
“But you were still like the sun.”
“My guests did belong to the elite. But that has never consoled me for such a comedown.”
“You’re still a lady. In every sense.”
She shakes her head. “What happened to all your old friends in the Wafd?”
“What was fated to happen.”
“Why did you never marry, Monsieur Amer?”
“Sheer bad luck. I wish I had a family. And you as well!”
“Neither of my husbands could give me children.”
More than likely it was you who c
That big house in Khan Gaafer, which slowly turned into a hotel: it looked like a little castle, its old courtyard standing where a path now runs to Khan al-Khalili. The image of the place is engraved in my memory—the ancient houses around it, the old Club—and in my heart. A memorial to the ecstasy of first love. Burning love. Broken. Frustrated. The turban and the white beard and the cruel lips saying “No.” Blindly, fanatically dealing the blow, killing love, whose power has been with us for a million years, since even before the birth of faith.
“Sir, may I ask for your daughter’s hand?” Silence. Between us stood a cup of coffee, untouched. “I am a journalist. I have a good income. My father was the keeper of the mosque of Sidi Abu al-Abbas al-Morsy.”
“He was a pious man, God rest his soul,” he said, taking up his prayer beads. “My son, you were one of us. You studied in al-Azhar once. But don’t let us forget that you were expelled.”
That old story, when would they forget it?
“Sir, that was a long time ago. They’d expel you for the least thing—for being young and full of spirit, for playing in an orchestra, or just for asking innocent questions.”
“Wise men accused you of a terrible crime.”
“Who can judge a man’s faith, when only God sees through our souls?”
“Those who take God’s words for a guide.”
Goddamnit! Who can he sure of his faith? To His prophets God revealed Himself once, but we need to see Him even more: when we consider our place in this enormous house we call the world, our heads begin to reel
Beware of idleness. I had better try walking on sunny mornings. How pleasant to spend a warm day at the Palma or the Swan, even if you are all on your own in the midst of so many families; the father reading his paper, the mother sewing, the children playing around them. Someone should invent a machine that would hold conversations with lonely people, a robot to partner us at backgammon or trictrac. Or we should be given a brand-new pair of eyes, so we could watch the plants of the earth or the colors of the sky.
I have lived long and seen so many eventful changes. I have often thought of writing it all down, as did my old friend Ahmed Shafiq Pasha, but I’ve put it off for so long that my strength of purpose has evaporated. Too late now! My hand is too weak, my memory cloudy, and nothing is left of the old intention but the sense of frustration. At this point I may commend to ashes my “Azhar Memories,” “Conversations with the Great Musicians Sheikh Ali Mahmoud, Zakariya Ahmad, and Sayed Darwish,” “The People’s Party: Its Pros and Cons,” “The Wafd and the Great Revolution.” Party differences, which eventually drove me into cold and meaningless neutrality. The Muslim Brotherhood, whom I did not like; the Communists, whom I did not understand. The July Revolution and what it meant, taking all previous political currents unto itself. My love life and Sharia Muhammad Ali. My determined stand against marriage.