It has been a priceless discovery. A collection of no fewer than 50 handwritten short stories ~ forsaken as lost ~ by the Egyptian Nobel laureate, Naguib Mahfouz, has been discovered in a box of the writer. Awarded the Nobel in Literature in 1988, the Arab world’s most beloved novelist passed away in 2006 at the ripe old age of 94.
It is profoundly reassuring that the collection will be available to international readers very shortly; Saqi Books has let it be known that it will release the stories next autumn. It is more than a mite fascinating that the noble collection, generally unknown to the world ~ even Egypt ~ till this week, will very shortly be available to the bibliophile.
Though the handwritten version may be available only in Egypt, the book of short stories will be of riveting interest to the literary circuit. Indeed, the 50 handwritten stories were found by the Egyptian journalist, Mohamed Shoair, at the home of Mahfouz’s daughter Umm Kulthum. Though some of the stories were published in magazines while Mahfouz was alive, at least 18 of them have never been published. Set in Cairo, they are filled with “fable-like scenarios and reappearing characters”.
The land of almost relentless turmoil since February 2011 can well claim a literary achievement, verily a treasure that had been written off as lost. Shoair found the papers when Kulthum gave him a box of Mahfouz’s papers while he was working on a book about the Nobel laureate’s manuscripts. “I’m in front of a treasure,” was his reaction, as immediate as it was instinctive.
The author of 34 novels and more than 350 short stories, the Nobel jury had described Mahfouz as an author “who, through works rich in nuance has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind”. The English-speaking world is said to be excited beyond measure over the very real prospect that these works of literature will be brought to readers in English by Roger Allen.
The collection will be published in Arabic on 11 December ~ Mahfouz’s birthday ~ by the Egyptian publisher, Dar al Saqi. The handwritten stories were accompanied by a note ~ “for publishing 1994”, a year that was critical for Mahfouz, then 82. He was given police protection after death threats, yet was stabbed in the neck outside his Cairo home by an Islamic extremist that year.
That attack had caused a permanent damage to his right-hand nerves, and he could no longer write for more than a few minutes a day. It is not yet known if the newly discovered stories were written before or after the extremist attack. Literature, English and Egyptian, is all the richer.