Archive for December, 2011

Cairo trilogy volume 2

7 December 2011

Palace of Desire.  Naguib Mahfouz ; translated by William Maynard Hutchins, Lorne M. Kenny & Olive E. Kenny. New York : Doubleday, 1991.

Palace of Desire is the name of a street – and more than that, needless to say.

In volume 2 Ahmed Jawad’s old female ‘friends’ no longer stir him, despite their best efforts. Instead his lust turns, idly at first, to one of their their support staff, the young flautist Zanuba. He is used to dictating terms to his women, crediting his success to charisma – so he’s baffled when this girl remains cold; pressure only makes her prickly and spiteful. He decides to move on from her but discovers, to his surprise and alarm, that he cannot… she is only available though money, and a great deal of it.

Yasin, meanwhile, gets married. Why not? It is the socially sanctioned path to good, regular sex. Unaccountably, though, monogamy soon loses its freshness, so the search for good sex hoiks up again. He bullocks his way through social protocols, class layers, delicate interfamily understandings and alliances – into all sorts of trouble, including a dalliance with a middle-aged woman whose personal disarray seems to parallel that of Yasin’s father. Indeed, Yasin’s path intertwines with that of his father in remarkable ways.

Kamal takes his own road to folly. All his imagination and sensibilities fasten on the beauty and poise of Aida, older sister of one of his rich school friends. Her baby sister adores Kamal effusively, a counterpoint to the remoteness and reserve of Aida herself. For all it’s intensity Kamal’s love is courtly, immaterial. In his own way he is just as disconnected from the hearts and minds of women as the other men in his family – unaware that while the men’s road through life may meander, women have to run on the rails of matrimony or whoredom.