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Palace Walk (thoughts)

March 26, 2007

Palace Walk was part of my Reading Across Borders challenge. I chose it because it was set in Egypt, and I wanted a book from the Middle East and because Mahfouz is well known.

I was immediately drawn into the world of Palace Walk. The book follows the day-to-day life of a family living in Cairo. The father is happy-go-lucky with friends, but a tyrant at home, so his wife and two daughters are never allowed out of the house. Ever. Meanwhile, he has two older sons, one of whom gets caught up in the revolutionary fervor (the book takes place during WWI), while the other one gets caught up in a less-lofty fervor. His younger son, Khalid, at eleven is Mahfouz’s voice at challenging a lot of societal norms, since he’s still young enough to challenge them.

Mahfouz’s writing is sharp, but at the same time sympathetic. He describes his characters in brutal honesty, and yet it never alienates the reader. I would never have expected to sympathize with a man who forbids his daughters and wife from leaving the house. But there I was, understanding his mindset. I’m most impressed by Mahfouz’s ability to create his world and bring the reader fully into it. I couldn’t put the book down, wanting to know if the daughters would get married, if the older son would win his love, etc.

All in all, I recommend the book for anyone who enjoys long family-centered epics. At 500+ pages, it allows you to sink into the world. And, it’s the first of a trilogy, so there are two other books to enjoy!

Favorite Passages

It was lust, yes, but no bestial or blind. It had been refined by a craft that was at least partially an art, seeing his lust in a framework of delight, humor, and good cheer. (99)The latter was exhausting himself by trying to act sober and walk straight, for fear his giddiness would reveal he had drunk too much. (273)

Once when he was exasperated by her reasoning, he had told her, “A people ruled by foreigners has no life.”
She had replied in astonishment, “But we’re still alive, even though they’ve been ruling us for a long time. I bore all of you under their rule. Son, they don’t kill us and they don’t interfere with the mosques. The community of Muhammad is still thriving.” (347)

Until that time, he had never experienced such a long period of enforced idleness, deprived of all forms of activity and amusement for hour after hour. (376)

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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