Karnak Cafe : A Modern Arabic Novel
As the forms of torture the young people undergo are revealed, the taboos of the society become obvious, and the faith of the young people in the future of the revolution of is put to the test. The progress of the country is obvious through their comments, at the same time that the limitations of the country, obvious through their treatment by the military and police, are even more obvious.
Their individual lives, shattered by their arrests and imprisonments, cease to exist in the aftermath of the trauma, and their ability to trust is gone forever. Mafouz recreates in a mere one hundred pages the historical record of a country yearning to be free at the same time that he depicts the movements against individual freedom which are at their peak.
The young people he creates here are ordinary college students, despite the fact that all of them have overcome far more than the average western college stu dent will ever dream of, and though they insist that they still believe in the future of the revolution of , their experience less than fifteen years later, shows them and the reader just how far they have left to go. Dynamic, powerful, and thought-provoking, this novella carries a punch—and modern relevance—that the reader will not soon forget.
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Mahfouz doesn't paint very full character-portraits here, but he does convey the feelings of the people, especially their almost blind nationalist pride and firm conviction that militarily Egypt is unbeatable even when they don't fully support much that the government does. He also conveys their rather stunned surprise when they see how feeble Egyptian military might turns out to be.
It's also an angry novella, as Mahfouz presents the accounts of several who have been compromised by the near-paranoid state that is terrified of anything that borders on dissent, turned into informers because they are left with no alternatives. Mahfouz only describes what happens in a small, quiet part of Cairo, but it's clear he's condemning the government's self-defeating and -undermining practices, showing a few individuals who are destroyed by it -- and clearly implying that this approach can only lead to the further radicalization of the opposition.
First published more than thirty years ago, but only readily available in English translation now, it's surprisingly indeed, shockingly contemporary and relevant, as the present-day Egyptian government continues to act much as its earlier incarnation does in the book.
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