Book Report

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Mahfouz’s realistic novels concern with social issues. His fictional characters are mostly from the lower-middle-class stratum of Cairene society. Most of his characters show clear autobiographical marks. In fact, most of his novels bear the names of the era of historical Cairo in which Mahfouz grew up. Many of his plots carry out a search for upward movement in a society highly affected by socioeconomic stratification. However, the quest is seldom successful. A major characteristic of Mahfouz’s works is telling common story in changing, freshly nuanced ways and a way to understand his extensive popularity in the Arab world. In his novels, the general is packaged in the specific details of local color and special national setting.

The setting is Alexandria in the early 1960s where six characters, all made banish by situations, are brought together in the perished elegance of the Pension Miramar. The central figure is Zohra, the gorgeous maid, whose relationship with the other five characters symbolically reflects the most central political and social realities of the period.

A gorgeous peasant girl, Zahra, leaves her place and come to Alexandria in search of independence as she became the center of men’s eye due to her simplicity and God gifted beauty, but also for her desire to escape from her traditional role of a maid without education. The fellah’s battle to run from her humble fortune is blended with her emotional love life and the more or less violent advances of some residents. She’s dejected at the pension in which she works as a maid, yet tolerates and appears stronger. At another level, it is an indictment of the Nasser regime, with Zahra representing Egypt, and Sirhan, the selfish character who seduces and betrays her, being a prominent member of Nasser’s Arab Socialist Union.

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