Interview with Mahfouz.

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Interview with Mahfouz.

Post by Hafiz »

The literary magazine most famous for interviews of great writers is The Paris Review and in 1992 they published one on Mahfouz. Its far from their best interview but contains the following interesting comments and quotes:

In the fifties he experimented with Sufi mysticism, seeking in it answers to the metaphysical questions not addressed by science.

Although much acclaimed in other parts of the Arab world, Mahfouz did not acquire a significant reputation in Egypt until the publication of The Cairo Trilogy in 1957.

Mahfouz: I didn’t make any money from my writing until much later. I published about eighty stories for nothing. Even my first novels I published for nothing.

Interviewer: When did you begin to make money from your writing?

MAHFOUZ: When my short stories were translated into English, French, and German. “Zabalawi” in particular was extremely successful and made me more money than any other story.

In Nasser’s time one feared the walls. Everyone was afraid. We would sit in the cafés, too afraid to talk. We would stay at home, too afraid to talk. I was afraid to talk to my children about anything that happened before the revolution: I was worried they would go to school and say something that would be misinterpreted.

Interviewer: Didn’t the censors also object to The Children of Gabelawi?

MAHFOUZ: They did. Even though I was at the time in charge of all artistic censorship, the head of literary censorship advised me not to publish the book in Egypt in order to prevent conflict with the Al-Azhar—the main seat of Islam in Cairo. It was published in Beirut but not allowed into Egypt. This was in 1959, in Nasser’s time. The book still can’t be bought here. People smuggle it in.

INTERVIEWER: Did you read The Satanic Verses?

MAHFOUZ: I didn’t. By the time it appeared, I could no longer read very well—my eyesight has deteriorated a lot recently. But the American cultural attaché in Alexandria explained the book to me chapter by chapter. I found the insults in it unacceptable. Rushdie insults even the women of the Prophet! Now, I can argue with ideas, but what should I do with insults? Insults are the business of the court. At the same time, I consider Khomeini’s position equally dangerous.

Unfortunately today’s interpretations of religion are often backward and contradict the needs of civilization.

INTERVIEWER: What is the subject closest to your heart? The subject you most love to write about?

MAHFOUZ: Freedom. Freedom from colonization, freedom from the absolute rule of a king, and basic human freedom in the context of society and the family. These types of freedom follow from one to the other.

INTERVIEWER: But what about a conception of the hero? Heroes don’t seem to exist in your stories, nor indeed in the stories of any contemporary Egyptian writer.

MAHFOUZ: It’s true that there are no heroes in most of my stories—only characters. Why? Because I look at our society with a critical eye and find nothing extraordinary in the people I see.

The full interview at: ... ib-mahfouz

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