The Beggar, the Thief and the Dogs, Autumn Quail
The Thief and the Dogs
Naguib Mahfouz was born in Cairo in 1911 and began writing when he was seventeen. A student of philosophy and an avid reader, his works range from reimaginings of ancient myths to subtle commentaries on contemporary Egyptian politics and culture. Over a career that lasted more than five decades, he wrote 33 novels, 13 short story anthologies, numerous plays, and 30 screenplays. Of his many works, most famous is The Cairo Trilogy, consisting of Palace Walk (1956), Palace of Desire (1957), and Sugar Street (1957), which focuses on a Cairo family through three generations, from 1917 until 1952. In 1988, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first writer in Arabic to do so. He died in August 2006.
THE FOLLOWING TITLES BY NAGUIB MAHFOUZ ARE ALSO PUBLISHED BY ANCHOR BOOKS:
The Beginning and the End
The Time and the Place and Other Stories
The Journey of Ibn Fattouma
Adrift on the Nile
Arabian Nights and Days
Children of the Alley
Echoes of an Autobiography
The Day the Leader Was Killed
Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth
THE CAIRO TRILOGY:
Palace of Desire
AN ANCHOR ORIGINAL, DECEMBER 2000
The Beggar copyright © 1986 by The American University in Cairo Press
The Thief and the Dogs copyright © 1984 by The American University in Cairo Press
Autumn Quail copyright © 1985 by The American University in Cairo Press
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright
Conventions. Published in the United States by Anchor Books,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York,
and simultaneously in Canada by
Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Anchor Books and colophon are registered trademarks of
Random House, Inc.
These three works, originally published in Arabic in 1961, 1962, and 1965, as Al-Liss wa-al-Kilãb, Al-Summan Wal-Kharif, and Al-Shahhãdh Copyright © by Naguib Mahfouz, were originally published separately in English translations in 1984, 1985, and 1986 by The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, Egypt. The Beggar was translated by Kristin Walker Henry and Nariman Khales Naili al-Warraki. The Thief and the Dogs was translated by Trevor Le Gassick and M. M. Badawi and revised by John Rodenbeck. Autumn Quail was translated by Roger Allen and revised by John Rodenbeck.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Mahfuz, Najib, 1911-
[Novels. English. Selections]
The beggar; The thief and the dogs; Autumn quail / Naguib Mahfouz.
ISBN 0-385-49835-7 (trade paper)
1. Maòfåò, Najåb, 1911—Translation into English. I. Title: Beggar;
The thief and the dogs; Autumn quail. II. Title: Thief and the dogs.
III. Title: Autumn quail. IV. Title.
PJ7846.A46 A2 2000
ebook ISBN 9780525432036
About the Author
Other Books by Naguib Mahfouz
The Beggar: One
The Thief and the Dogs
The Thief and the Dogs: One
Autumn Quail: One
Autumn Quail Notes
“The trouble with most modern Arabic literature,” I have frequently heard Western editors complain, “is that it’s always about politics.” The complaint itself is interesting, not only in what it presumes to be important but also in the historical attitude it implies toward even Western literature, in which from the ancient Greeks onward politics has been a central subject during every period—except perhaps the Dark Ages. What would the Dante of the Inferno or the Shakespeare of the Histories make of this complaint, for example, not to mention Milton, whose Council in Pandemonium remains our finest description of a Cabinet debate? What, for that matter, would a V. S. Naipaul or a Gabriel García Márquez have to say? One suspects that in this instance, as in so many others, special rules of some sort have been devised for application to Arabs only.
The Beggar is an ironic case in point, since few Western readers coming to it or to Mahfouz for the first time are likely to understand that it, too, like “most modern Arabic literature,” is a political book. First published in 1965, when Mahfouz was in his mid-fifties, it belongs to a remarkable series of novels (The Children of Gebelawi, The Thief and the Dogs, Autumn Quail, The Path, Small Talk on the Nile, and Miramar) in which he tried to assess the impact of political change upon the country he had known before the Revolution of July 1952.
Though his famous Cairo Trilogy was published between 1954 and 1957, Mahfouz had in fact composed its last words in 1952, then stopped writing for more than five years. “The world I had made it my mission to describe,” he told Philip Stewart, one of his translators, “had disappeared.” When a new work—The Children of Gebelawi—finally appeared in 1959, it created a scandal, not only because of its su
Despair is the keynote of the series of six novels that followed, which ended with the debacle of the Six-Day War in 1967. Omar, the protagonist of The Beggar, belongs to the class and the generation that should have provided Egypt with leadership, but have instead been deprived of any significant function. His old classmates Mustapha and Othman, who are in some sense his alter egos, suggest the dangers of either accommodation or opposition, while Omar himself suggests one of the causes of their irrelevance: failure to care enough at the right time. Their liberal secularism, the central motif in Egyptian higher culture for the previous hundred years, of which they represent a kind of culmination, has simply been shelved as an operative ideal, though it may survive as an irrepressible yearning. It thus finds indirect expression, necessarily inadequate, as sex or poetry, though even in a Voltairean garden one can never be saved by such longings.
The Beggar then is a complex and passionate outcry against irrelevance and against what is likely to follow—alienation. Surely it is about things that matter; and matter in places other than the Arab world.
White clouds floated in the blue expanse overlooking a vast green land where cows grazed serenely. Nothing indicated what country it was. In the foreground a child, mounted on a wooden horse, gazed toward the horizon, a mysterious semi-smile in his eyes. Omar wondered idly who did the painting as he sat alone in the waiting room. It was almost time for the appointment he’d made ten days earlier. The table in the middle of the room was strewn with newspapers and magazines; dangling over the edge was the photo of a woman accused of kidnapping children. He turned back to amuse himself with the painting—a pasture, cows, a child, the horizon. Although the painting had little value apart from its ornamental gold frame, he liked the searching child, the tranquil cows. But Omar’s condition was worsening, his eyelids were heavy and his heartbeats sluggish. There the child looks at the horizon, and how tightly it grips the earth, closes in upon the earth from any angle you observe it. What an infinite prison. Why the wooden horse, why the cows so full of tranquillity? Steady footsteps sounded in the hall outside, and then the male nurse appeared at the door, saying, “Come in, please.”
Would his old school friend recognize him after a quarter of a century? He entered the office of the distinguished physician. There he stood, smiling, a dark slender man with kinky hair and glowing eyes. He had hardly changed from their days in the school courtyard. The corner of his mouth had the same ironic turn, suggesting his old gaiety and sharp wit.
“Welcome, Omar. You’ve changed, but for the better!”
“I didn’t think you’d remember me.”
They shook hands warmly.
“What a giant you are! You were always very tall but now that you’ve put on weight you’ve become enormous,” he said, raising his head to Omar.
Omar smiled with pleasure and repeated, “I really didn’t think you’d remember me.”
“But I don’t forget anyone, so how could I forget you?”
It was a gracious welcome from one in his position. After all, a distinguished physician is widely renowned; who hears of the lawyer other than those with legal cases?
The physician laughed while surveying him and said, “You really have put on weight. You look like a business tycoon from the past, nothing missing except the cigar!”
A grin appeared on Omar’s dark, full face. Slightly abashed, he settled his glasses in place while raising his thick eyebrows.
“I’m happy to meet you again, Doctor.”
“And I you, though the occasion of seeing me is not usually pleasant.”
He returned to his desk, which was piled with books, papers, and various instruments and gestured to Omar to take a seat.
“Let’s leave our reminiscences until after we’ve reassured ourselves about your health.” He opened his case book and started to write. “Name: Omar al-Hamzawi. Profession: Lawyer. Age?” The physician laughed, saying in anticipation, “Don’t worry, we’re in the same predicament.”
“Remember what a difference in age a month seemed when we were in school? But now, who cares? Any history of special illness in the family?”
“None, unless you consider high blood pressure after sixty extraordinary.”
The physician folded his arms and said seriously, “Let’s hear what you’ve got.”
Omar stroked his thick black hair, in which the first strands of white were discernible, and said, “I don’t believe I’m ill in the usual sense.”
The physician regarded him attentively.
“I mean I don’t have the usual symptoms…”
“But I feel a strange lethargy.”
“Is that all?”
“I think so.”
“Perhaps it’s overwork.”
“I’m not sure that’s the answer.”
“Of course not. Otherwise you wouldn’t have honored me with your visit.”
“In fact, I no longer feel any desire to work at all.”
“It’s not fatigue. I suppose I could still work, but I have no desire to, no desire at all. I’ve left the work to the assistant lawyer in my office and postponed all my own cases for the past month…”
“Haven’t you thought of taking a vacation?”
Omar continued as though he hadn’t heard. “Very often I’m sick of life, people, even the family. The situation seemed too serious to keep silent.”
“Then the problem is not…”
“The problem is very serious. I don’t want to think, to move, or to feel. Everything is disintegrating and dying. My hope in coming here was to find some physical cause.”
The physician remarked with a smile, “If only we could solve our most serious problems with a pill after eating or a spoonful of medicine before sleeping.”
They proceeded into the examination room. Omar took off his clothes and lay down on the medical cot. The physician followed the usual procedure. He looked at Omar’s outstretched tongue, then pressed up his eyelids and examined his eyes, took his blood pressure, then measured his breathing with the stethoscope. Omar breathed deeply, coughed, and said “Ah” once from the throat, again from the chest, and glanced furtively at the physician’s face without reading anything. The elegant fingers then tapped on his chest and on his back and pressed with more force on his abdomen. The examination over, the physician returned to his office, where Omar joined him a few minutes later. He finished looking at the results of the urine analysis taken earlier, rubbed his hands, smiled broadly, and said, “My dear lawyer, there’s absolutely nothing.”
The nostrils of his long, sharp nose dilated and his face flushed. “Nothing at all?”
“At all,” the physician affirmed, but added cautiously, “I’m afraid the problem may be more serious.” Then he laughed. “Though it’s not a case which can be exaggerated to double the fees!”
Omar laughed while looking at him expectantly.
“Well, then,” the doctor stressed, “you should know that it’s nothing but…”
Omar asked uneasily, “Is the psychiatric ward my fate, then?”
“Neither a psychiatric nor any other kind of ward.”
“Yes. You’ve got a bourgeois disease, if I may use the term our newspapers are so fond of. You’re not sick,” he continued more slowly, “but I see the first signs of something more than a disease. You’ve come at the appropriate time. When did the lethargy appear?”
“Two months ago, perhaps a
“Let me describe your life as I see it. You’re a successful, wealthy man. You’ve virtually forgotten how to walk. You eat the best food, drink good wine, and have overburdened yourself with work to the point of exhaustion. Your mind is preoccupied with your clients’ cases and your own holdings. Anxiety about the future of your work and your financial situation has got the better of you.”
Omar gave a slight laugh and said, “That’s the picture, in general, but now I’ve lost interest in everything.”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with you for the time being, but the enemy lurks on the border.”
“And if we don’t take care, serious danger may overwhelm us.”
“We’re getting to the point.”
“Be moderate in your eating, drink less, stick to regular exercise such as walking, and there’ll be no grounds for fear.”
Omar waited, thinking, but the doctor said no more. “Aren’t you going to write me a prescription?”
“No. You’re not a villager who needs a superfluous prescription to be convinced of my importance. The real cure is in your hands alone.”
“I’ll be my old self again?”
“And better…In spite of my heavy load of work at the university and the hospital and clinic, I walk every day for at least a half hour and I watch my diet.”
“I’ve never felt the advance of years.”
“Old age is a disease which you won’t feel as long as you follow a sensible regime. There are youths of over sixty. The important thing is to understand life.”
“To understand life?”
“I’m not speaking philosophically, of course.”
“But your treatment of me is based on some sort of philosophy. Hasn’t it ever occurred to you to question the meaning of your life?”
The physician laughed loudly and said, “I have no time for that. As long as I serve those in need each hour, what meaning does the question have?” Then he advised, with friendly concern, “Take a vacation.”
“My vacation is usually so interrupted that the summer months hardly seem more than one prolonged weekend.”