lunes, 28 de febrero de 2011

The Cairo Trilogy III: Sugar Street

Sugar Street [Al-Sukkariyya] (Doubleday, 1992)
by Naguib Mahfouz [translated from the Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins and Angele Botros Samaan]
Egypt, 1957

Although I certainly enjoyed most of The Cairo Trilogy as a spectacle (Mahfouz can be a funny guy with his wordplay and that whole panorama of Egyptian society over a 25-year span definitely has its moments early on), I think I began to lose interest in it even on this level of reduced expectations somewhere near the end of the second volume.  Would Mahfouz rally and redeem himself with a grand finale?  In a word, no.  While the concluding novel in the trilogy ends with one key character dead and another one on her deathbed, I got the sense that this was less an organic ending to an epic tale hundreds of pages in the making and more a case of Mahfouz finally running out of things to endlessly wring his hands about as puppetmaster in chief.  For far too much of Sugar Street is devoted to sad sack bachelor Kamal's loss of faith and lack of interest in getting married, two potentially interesting topics dumbed down by she loves me, she loves me not scenarios played out for chapters on end in the most uninteresting of fashions (note: that kind of creepy subplot in which Kamal falls in love with the younger sister of a long ago crush, last seen by him as a toddler and now viewed by him as a romantic prospect, doesn't help in this regard).  "He felt scorched by a burning sensation that seemed a symptom of his profound pain," Mahfouz writes of Kamal at one point, the "pain" in question stemming from the middle-aged Kamal seeing a girl he had already rejected arm in arm on the street with another man (264).  I, too, felt that burning sensation, though probably less from the emotions conjured up by such Nobel Prize-winning prose than by my immune system's response to confronting such vapid howlers and unimaginably tedious interior monologues while trying to fight off a miserable cold this past week.  Fuck you, cold.  Fuck you, Sugar Street, too.  (

Naguib Mahfouz

16 comentarios:

  1. "...vapid howlers and unimaginably tedious interior monologues while trying to fight off a miserable cold this past week. Fuck you, cold."


    Dang, if a nasty cold is all it takes to cough up a lovely gem like this, I really wish you'd get sick more often!

    Are you an academic? A writer? Do you teach?


    Feel better soon.


  2. Kamal/Budur didn't bother me. I was more weirded out by Nai'ma and Abd al-Muni'm, who are freaking double first cousins. Did you know that if their parents were both identical twins they would be as closely related as brother and sister? *squick*

    My reaction was just the opposite of yours. I actually liked this volume the best and generally disliked the middle one. Sugar Street felt tighter and more controlled, and I also found the grandchildren much more interesting than their forebears! But strangely enough, I find that I don't have much to say about this book. It felt very straightforward.

    Sorry to hear about your cold!

  3. Eh, I was generally annoyed by all of Kamal's scenes, but like EL Fay I did like some of what happened with the grandchildren. I just wasn't very engaged with the story anymore.

  4. I have this book on a challenge list. I hope to read them soon. Thanks for this anyway. I love your objectivity.

  5. Haha, I'm with you, Richard. At this point I feel confident avoiding any marginally soapy-sounding family epics singled out by those douchebags on the Nobel Prize Committee. I could have dealt with the lackluster prose if the ideas had been interesting, or the lack of original ideas if the prose were stunning, but...alas. Ah well, better luck next time!

  6. *Kevin: Negatory, but thanks for such an amusing interrogation--that gave me a much needed laugh on my sickbed! In the future, I shall aspire to cough up other such malevolent "gems" for you without the crutch of actual illness as a Muse. Cheers!

    *E.L. Fay: I wasn't really weirded out by Kamal/Budur as much as I might have let on, but the whole thing struck me as a little too Jerry Springer-like for my tastes. Cheap. Tawdry. Only lacking a studio audience. I am glad you liked this installment more than I did, though, because I hated it--and I don't need that kind of guilt! Thanks to you (and Kevin) for commiserating with me about my cold, by the way.

    *Sarah: I know exactly what you mean about not being "engaged with the story anymore." Egg-freakin'-zactly, I'm afraid. Cheers!

    *Nana: Thanks for the kind words. I hope you have a better experience than I did with The Cairo Trilogy as a whole, but at least Sugar Street was the only volume of the three that I didn't like at all. Mahfouz's later (and much shorter) Miramar is a work I enjoyed a lot, though.

    *Emily: Dontcha mean "sophomoric douchebags" as with Thoreau? Ha ha, that line never grows old! Anyway, sorry, but I agree 100% with everything you say in your comment. Good thing you didn't join us for A Void or you would never have wanted to do another readalong with me. Ack!

  7. Knowing how unsatisfied you are with the third volume, do you think it's worth reading just the first or first two?

  8. Richard, I hope you're feeling better. :(

    Aren't I such a cheater? Wasn't I supposed to be reading with you? But then I wasn't able to get hold of copies and then you all finished and felt somewhere along the lines of KL and then I've decided I'll keep my money, thank you very much. Ha ha.

    Get well soon, dearie.

  9. *Mee: I'd suggest you start with Palace Walk, which takes a while to get going but is mostly a good read, and then see if you like it enough to continue reading on. The second part has its moments and the third part is awful, so I probably would have been better off myself if I had just stopped reading after Palace Walk. Although I prob. would have wondered what I missed! Hmm, hope that helps...

    *Claire: Thanks, I am ever so slowly coming closer to not feeling 100% sick after a week and a half. And no worries about you being a readalong "cheater": your misfortune in not being able to get hold of copies might have actually saved you from a worse fate--esp. with Sugar Street, which was as flat, uninspired and repetitive as Undset IMHO. Ouch!

  10. I finally put up my read-along post today. For a while, I was somewhat at a loss as how to discuss a somewhat anti-climatic final book in this trilogy.
    I hope you come up with another trilogy readalong in the future! Wasn't KL a year ago? Maybe do this as an annual tradition?

  11. Harsh, but I also found the third less compelling, too. By the time I got to all the politics and the youngest son's mopey love, I was a little disappointed.

  12. *Valerie: I'm so glad you're willing to keep reading along after K Lav and the moderately disappointing Cairo Trilogy! Not sure what next year will bring, but a few of us will be reading Javier Marías' Your Face Tomorrow trilogy together this summer. In the meantime, I'm sorry that Sugar Street did indeed seem so anti-climactic. I think almost everyone agreed on that point at least. Cheers!

    *Paul: If I didn't know any better, I might have suspected that Sugar Street was written by an entirely different novelist than the first two parts of the trilogy due to how flat and purposeless it seemed in stretches. Still have relatively fond feelings for Mahfouz overall, but I just don't get the raves The Cairo Trilogy has earned over the years. Weird.

  13. Sorry this turned out to be such a dud for you and your fellow read- along group, Richard. But sounds like you've moved on to some good reads. Look forward to your thoughts on Vargas Llosa's novel.

  14. *Lourdes: Sugar Street was the only one of the three that was a real dud for me, but it was SUCH a dud that it prob. colored my opinion of the preceding two volumes unduly. In any event, thanks for the visit and hopefully the Vargas Llosa will result in happier times all around for one and all. ¡Saludos!

  15. Oh Dear, I am sorry you didn't like Sugar Street, but well done for finishing the entire trilogy. Did it give you a sense of great achievement albeit the bitter "Sugar Street"? It was the Cairo Trilogy that drew me to your blog by the way.

  16. *JoV: Sugar Street was such a letdown that I was mostly relieved to be finished with the trilogy rather than feeling a sense of accomplishment over it, but it's not like the preceding two volumes were a waste of time or anything like that. Anyway, thanks for the post-read acknowledgement of the effort expended. Cheers!