Posted by: Corri van de Stege | April 2, 2009

Other worlds

After these few weeks of great uncertainty and, yes, let’s be honest, insecurity, my life has become slightly more focused, once more.  I got through the job interview, answered all the questions and they seemed pleased and satisfied with what I said and had done so far and so offered me one of the 6 positions (reduced from 11).  So I’m a happy bunny, so close to Easter, as far as that’s concerned, but greatly unhappy for the five colleagues who are being given their P45.  That is life at the moment. 

There’s the G20 going on around us, not that far away, in London, and people demonstrate for all kinds of causes ranging from climate change to the credit crunch and poverty, others analyse every movement (and dresses) of Michelle Obama and others again go through an in-depth analysis of what Sarkozy said but did not mean and where Obama sat at the dinner table last night and what Brown’s body language revealed or did not reveal.

I am totally unable to write or even think about writing.  I do read, regardless, but then that is a kind of escapism at this moment in time.  Reading fills up the blanks that otherwise will force me to think more carefully about what is happening around me and about where I want to go.  At the moment, I don’t particularly want to go anywhere. 

Even though I am coming to the conclusion that I really don’t like Mahfouz’s style of writing that much, I nevertheless appreciate the story he is telling, even if I could do with a little less expansiveness about teenage angst in terms of ‘his beloved’.  It is definitely a style of writing that you have to accept in order to get to the bottom of the story, which is fascinating in its own way and in this different world that is being conjured up.  So, yes, halfway through Palace of Desire, the second book in the Cairo Trilogy.   The blurb says that this is the ‘sensual and provocative second volume…….  [which] follows the Al Jawad family into the awakening world of the 1920’s and the sometimes violent clash between Islamic ideals, personal dreams and modern realities’.   But then, I probably need to try harder and appreciate a bit more this very different approach, an Egyptian approach, to writing, which seems odd in this day and age.  I am somehow mesmerised by it, even if I feel a reluctance to engage fully.


There are all these other worlds, outside ourselves –  we move through them on a daily basis: the world of  economy,  of demonstrations in London, and yes, there’s the world that once centred on Egypt in the 1920s.  And these are only a few other worlds, there are so many that I don’t even get close to, and never will. 




  1. I know what you mean with Kamal’s angst. It did get on my nerves as well from time to time. I just wanted to shout at him to get real and don’t freak out so much. But eventually I let myself just go with the flow of the text.

    I can see how Mahfouz’ writing doesn’t appeal to you that much. For me it worked because of the story he is telling. I found that the writing style somehow fitted the relations between the different family members. The same style might not work for me in another story. I have some other books by Mahfouz on my TBR-pile, so I’ll find out when I read them.

    You posts on the Cairo Trilogy make me revisit and rethink my own reading of the books. Thank you! 🙂

  2. I have always been fascinated with the level of scrutiny that comes into play when world leaders meet. Our cable news channels spend hours on end analyzing body language and dissecting comments. I’ll bet I’ve seen a five second film of Queen Elizabeth and Michelle Obama and “the touch” 20 times tonight. From what I can gather, most people have decided that “the touch” was a good, rather than a bad thing and if that’s the most controversial thing that happened this week, I’d say it was a good visit 🙂

  3. I’m glad to hear you were offered one of the available positions.

    I haven’t read the Palace Walk trilogy yet, but will one of these days. What about the writing style don’t you like?

  4. Myrthe – like you I also want the story and that is one of the reasons I continue to be fascinated by the Trilogy. You’re quite right in that the style does mirror the cultural environment somehow and it does help to put the reader firmly within that country and also the time, I think. So, I’m developing very much an irritable love-hate relationship with these books!

    Lisa – yes, it’s fascinating to watch it all and now similar scenes are being beamed to us from France! The Obama – Michelle scenes are actually quite refreshing and perhaps it will all help to change this world a little, for the better!

    a devoted reader – see also my response to Myrthe above. The books are of course translated from the Egyptian and I suppose that the translation faithfully mirrors the Egyptian style of writing, which is much more ’emotional’ in its story telling fashion. For example, there are very long and near tedious expositions of how Kamal feels about the sister of his best friend (he is infatuated and she is not responsive): ‘He was treading underfoot a surface her feet had once traversed. His revernce was so great he could scarcely continue. He would have liked to stretch his hand out to the wall of the mansion to seek its blessing, as he had once at the sepulchre of al-Husayn, before he learned it was nothing but a symbol. In what area of the mansion might his beloved be disporting herself at the moment? What would he do if she favored him with one of her fascinating glances? If only he could find her in the gazebo, then his eye would be rewarded for all it sforbearance, longing, and sleeplessness.’ etc. and there are many more of such paragraphs. Hence my impatience at times. .. However, I must emphasise that the story of this family and how they interact also with people around them is fascinating! Don’t let me put you off reading the Trilogy!

  5. I’m glad you’ve survived the job cuts – it’s a scary time these days, that’s for sure.

    I read Palace Walk, but haven’t moved on to the second novel in the trilogy. I had something of a love/hate relationship with Mahfouz myself…don’t know if I’m quite in the mood to take on another one.

  6. I’m so happy for you about the job! Yea!

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