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Cairo Modern    by Naguib Mahfouz order for
Cairo Modern
by Naguib Mahfouz
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2009 (2009)

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Author Naguib Mahfouz is the Arab world's only Nobel Prize winner in literature. In Cairo Modern, first published in 1945 and translated by William M. Hutchins, Mahfouz presents to the world Egyptian society of the 1930s.

A young man named Mahgub, trying to keep his head above water as he finishes his studies, strives for a government job. Success would enable him to support himself and his destitute parents until he is able to rise through the system to a permanent place in the employ of the corrupt government.

A young girl catches Mahgub's eye but he must steel himself against any attachment as her father is further up the rung in society than he is. Enter a third person who throws a monkey wrench into the young man's life. But wait! Could this be the advantage for which he was looking?

Mahfouz's take on conditions in Egypt at that time brings Cairo into focus. Discussions abound among the students, who express profound beliefs that would hold true at any time. With Cairo Modern, the reader gets an insight into the country's politics. Seems like in the city of Cairo - and maybe the whole country - government was based on patronage. Surely not a successful way to run things. Hopefully today's government is less corrupt, but surely today's students are still discussing pretty much the same things and with the same attitudes as in the 1930s.

The plot of this engrossing novel takes us away from the government and settles more on how this system affected the everyday man and his family. It also details the lives of those in power and those who wish to be in power. Cairo Modern is an uncomplicated and quickly read book that will cause you to think hard about some of the sage advice on its pages.

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