|Palace of Desire
by Naguib Mahfouz
5/24/98 8:58:53 PM 6/9/98 4:00:01 AM
We are currently discussing this work over on Prodigy Classic. This novel makes me happy to be an American woman. The story takes place during World War I in Egypt, and the men in the family are all powerful. The women are not allowed to leave the house without being accompanied by a man, preferably the husband. The novel does a give a picture of a culture that is very foreign to me. Jane
5/25/98 9:40:52 AM 6/10/98 4:00:06 AM
I have PALACE OF DESIRE but have not had much time to get into it. I am confused about the family tragedy that happened in the earlier book. I guess I should have read it first. What happened to the middle son?
P.S. Just dropped by to try out this new format. It is definitely workable.
5/25/98 8:38:55 PM 6/10/98 4:00:06 AM
I have just passed page 350 and haven't found the tragedy yet. I will post when I know. I assume that it has to do with politics, since I am at the point that Egypt is trying to expel the British from their country. Fahmy, the middle son, is very involved with passing out illegal pamphlets. Jane
5/27/98 8:54:08 AM 6/12/98 4:00:01 AM
Hi, Jane and Ann. I haven't been over on this board for a couple of days. I didn't know you were discussion POD here. Ann, when I nominated PALACE OF DESIRE for the discussion, I was under the impression that the trilogy was loosely related and that they could easily be read out of context. That is not exactly the case, is it? I read PALACE WALK, but it's been so long that even I don't remember the tragedy. For that reason, I'm going right to SUGAR STREET now. I'm about 150 pages into it. It's much shorter than the other two, so it shouldn't take me too long to finish it. It's hard to appreciate the changes that take place in POD without first having read PALACE WALK. I highly recommend your reading PW. (If you can squeeze it in).
5/29/98 9:17:44 PM 6/14/98 4:00:02 AM
I am closing in on the end of PALACE WALK. Kamal is by far my favorite character. The two girls in the family have disappeared off the map since they are married. That must have been the case during that time period. I wonder if it is true these days, in a very strict household. Jane who is hoping to finish this weekend
5/29/98 9:40:18 PM 6/14/98 4:00:02 AM
I just finished SUGAR STREET and the circumstances of women really change by the end of the trilogy. I know it is asking a lot, but keep reading. I waited to read PALACE OF DESIRE until now, and I regret it. It's really one long story, with events building on previous events.
5/30/98 9:31:21 PM 6/22/98 4:00:03 AM
At the moment, there isn't time for me to read the other two books, but I plan on it sometime. It is a wonderful trilogy. Jane
6/1/98 1:16:48 PM 6/22/98 4:00:04 AM
(This is the same post I just put on Prodigy.)
I finished SUGAR STREET, the third in the Cairo Trilogy. I was hoping it would have a WAR & PEACE ending. Kamal would find his Natasha (I thought it would be Burda) and decide that he had spent entirely too much of his time and energy on the life of thought and immerse himself into the life of life. But thought got the better of him. He was unable to withdraw from his intense inner life and allow himself the happiness and “meaning” of unconsciousness. You’ve all known people who analyze everything way too much, so much that they literally miss the boat. I think Kamal missed the boat. He wanted so much to find meaning in life, that he paralyzed himself into inactivity. I wish more of you had read this because I have questions I would like to ask. One is: What is Mahfouz trying to say to us about belief? In one family there are two brothers who are diametrically opposed in their beliefs. One is a socialist and one is a religious fundamentalist. They both work fervently for their respective causes, in the same house, even. They both end up political prisoners. But their beliefs are strong and they find value in their work. Do you think Mahfouz is saying it is better to plunge ahead and believe with your heart, even though your head may think you are wrong?
I found several intriguing passages in SUGAR STREET. Here’s one. Kamal is lamenting the destruction of a favorite coffeehouse:
“Have you heard? It will soon be demolished so a new structure can be built on its ruins. This historic spot will vanish forever.”
“Good riddance! Let these catacombs disappear so a new civilization can rise above them.”
“Is he right?” Kamal wondered. “Perhaps...but the heart feels strongly about certain things. My dear coffeehouse, you’re part of me. I have dreamt a lot and thought a lot inside you. Yasin came to you for years. Fahmy met his revolutionary comrades here to plan for a better world. I also love you, because you’re made from the same stuff as dreams. But what’s the use of all this? What value does nostalgia have? Perhaps the past is the opiate of the Romantic. It’s a most distressing affliction to have a sentimental heart and a skeptical mind. Since I don’t believe in anything, it doesn’t matter what I say.”
6/1/98 10:29:25 PM 6/22/98 4:00:04 AM
I love that quote -- ""It's a most distressing affliction to have a sentimental heart and a skeptical mind.""
Are you reading, or have you read, PALACE OF DESIRE? It is a little confusing to be reading it without having read PALACE WALK, but the background is getting clearer as I proceed. I liked the picture painted of the daughters in this family, especially Khadija, who definitely wears the pants in her family. Obviously, there is more than one way for females to exercise power. Also, I have just finished a segment where the father visits the ""entertainers"" after denying himself for 5 years as a kind of punishment after his son's death. I was
surprised and amused that the prostitutes are so old and so fat, although, unlike his friends, al-Sayyid Ahmad decides he needs the one young enough to be his daughter. This character may technically be the patriarch who controls all, but the author seems to be constantly poking fun of him. For example, al-Sayyid Ahmad refers to his self-imposed exile from the prostitutes: ""I was sentenced to five years of innocence without labor.""
And Zubyda replies, ""Alas, poor boy! You deprived yourself of every pleasure, all of them, poor baby, so that the only ones to enjoy were food, drink, music, humor, and staying out till daybreak, night after night.""
He answered apologetically, ""These things are necessary for a grieving heart, but the other ones...""
I like this book. One thing I was curious about was that two members of this family are described as having blue eyes. I have never seen an Arab with blue eyes. Is there something in the first book which explains this, Jane?
6/2/98 7:55:58 AM 6/22/98 4:00:04 AM
Yes, Ann, I read Palace of Desire then went right into Sugar Street (after reading a little book in between). I had the same confusion you did at the outset of POD, since it's been about 6 years since I read Palace Walk. I didn't remember what had happened to Fahmy or who he was. I did remember the feud between Khadija and her mother-in-law. You're right about Khadija and power. Just think what she would have become in the realm of men. Prime minister or something. Seeing women's roles change over the years was one of the things I liked best about the trilogy. It's ironic, Khadija,who found her power niche in the traditional sense became incensed at her son's marrying someone he met and fell in love with at work.
6/3/98 8:24:32 PM 6/22/98 4:00:05 AM
The author doesn't explain why Aisha has blond hair and blue eyes. They seem to value her looks because of this, just as people do in our culture!! Jane
6/17/98 2:38:39 AM 7/2/98 4:00:06 AM
Actually the Egyptians are not Arabs. The blue eyes and blonde hair could come from years of French influence (the Suez Canal days?) or the British associations during WWI and WWII.
Edd Houghton on his first attempt on this board. I miss my Bulletin Board Note Manager, and this clunky little 2.5 bites per century modem just won't cut it.
6/17/98 11:36:44 PM 7/3/98 4:00:13 AM
Edd, great to see you - hang in there! I'm doing this on a 14.4 modem with bellsouth.net. It's not impossible.
6/23/98 8:48:57 PM 7/8/98 4:00:17 AM
PALACE WALK takes place during World War I, so the blonde hair and blue eyes can't be attributed to the British during this time period. Maybe, it does come from the Suez Canal days.
6/30/98 10:10:40 PM 7/13/98 4:00:12 AM
Edd, Cathy, and Jane,
I think this book definitely hints at some European blood, but I didn't read the first book in the series and was hoping it was explained there. Per my trusty grocery store FUNK & WAGNALL'S encyclopedia, modern Egyptians are a mixture of the ancient Egyptians, the later Arab influx, and elements of other conquering peoples.