Home > Uncategorized > On first reading Miramar

On first reading Miramar

I was a little slow to pick up on the fact that this novel tells the same sequence of events from 5 different characters’ perspectives; I should have invested more energy into understanding those events from the beginning.  [One of the events is a radio concert by Umm Kulthum, whom I had heard of thanks to an NPR profile a few months ago].  The 5 narrators are all guests at the Miramar pension in Alexandria, Egypt.  They’re all men, but the pension owner also plays a significant role; she’s an aging but attractive Greek widow.  Her employee, Zahra, is a pivotal character, a young woman who has run away from her village to the big city. 

Unresolved questions surround both the women:

  • Marianne, the owner–is she a “procuress”? 
  • Zahra–can she take care of herself, as she is fond of claiming she can do?  There’s lots of emphasis both on her vulnerability as a female runaway and on her strength of mind and body–she’s no pushover. 

Why does Mahfouz never tell the events from either of the women’s perspectives?

I wasn’t too taken with this book the first time through.  The characterization and writing style seem to lack subtlety.  For example, when one of the young men checks in to the pension and meets Marianne, the owner, he reflects on her impression of himself: “She is clearly very impressed, and wishes she were forty years younger” (55).  Give me a break!  Later in the novel, another young, male character watches Zahra leave a room, telling the reader, “I stood there looking after her, watching her loved and familiar figure as she walked away; and even then, even at such an absurd moment, it was clear to me that this broken creature I watched disappearing into oblivioun was my first and probably my last and only love” (121).  Ugh.

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