The World of the Alley: Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo

Ursula Lindsey in The Nation:

I met Naguib Mahfouz once. It was in the winter of 2006, and I’d been living in Cairo for three and a half years. The writer Gamal Al-Ghitani, an old friend of Mahfouz’s, provided me with an introduction to one of his weekly gatherings. I went to a Holiday Inn in the suburb of Maadi. The hotel faced the Nile across four lanes of traffic. There was a metal detector at the front door. Ever since he was nearly killed by a young fundamentalist in 1994, Mahfouz no longer frequented the downtown cafés where he had met friends and fellow writers for half a century.

It was a small group; I can’t remember any names. There must have been a few of Mahfouz’s old friends and a few new admirers such as myself. Also in attendance was a well-known Cairo character, a middle-aged American who favored white suits and who claimed, for decades now, to be writing Mahfouz’s biography.

Mahfouz was 94 then. He was enveloped in an overcoat that was too big for him and made him look like a small, wizened, sympathetic turtle.

More here.