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10,000 Pages in His Spare Time

Naguib Mahfouz, Nobel Prize winner and prolific writer, worked as a civil servant (bureaucrat) all his adult life.  According to Prof. Roger Allen, who knew him personally, he did his writing after work every day from 4-6 pm.   It’s astonishing to think of his productivity in such short spans of time.  He produced well over 10,000 pages of published fiction that way!   Apparently he was very organized (even bureaucratic) with his materials, too, maintaining files on his characters and cross referencing them. 

Disturbingly, his job was to censor movies.  According to RA, he didn’t like to talk about it very much. 

In our final teaching session on Miramar this morning, we got into a discussion of translation, and I discovered that some people in the class had an edition of the book with footnotes.  Aaaaargh!!!  I spent so much time trying to understand background information that had already been written up–and I didn’t know it!  Roger didn’t realize that one edition didn’t include them.  He took one look and said, “Ah.  Here’s the difference.  The one with footnotes was published by a university press; the one without by a commercial publisher.”  Now I know: when there’s an option, buy the edition from a university press.

Once I got enough background to see Miramar as an allegory, I got more and more interested in the political and social elements it was critiquing.  There’s a member of the former landowning elite, a member of the socialist government establishment (who’s also scheming to get into the black market), and a peasant who has gotten enough education to work as an accountant.  None of them is portrayed sympathetically.  The interesting thing to me, though, is that there’s no devout Muslim figure in the whole novel.  RA says that wasn’t a significant element in Egyptian society in 1967.  Egypt was quite secular until Sadat (with his Muslim Brotherhood connections) came into power.

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