The master is 90
Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz -- who completes nine decades this week -- is feted in style
by Tarek Atia
(cairolive.com, December 13, 2001)
Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz's 90th birthday was celebrated in grand style in Cairo on Tuesday night. Mahfouz's international publisher, the American University in Cairo
(AUC) Press, hosted the party, setting up a large tent in the univeristy's elegant garden, and keeping the attendees entertained till the wee hours with an oriental takht troupe and many other goodies.
Mahfouz -- the author of such classics as The Cairo Trilogy and Adrift on the Nile -- was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988 in commemoration of decades of contributions to modern Arabic literature. Since then, he has continued to write prolifically, and the AUC press has published or licensed some 400 editions of his works in 27 languages, making him by far the world's most celebrated Arab writer.
At Mahfouz's birthday celebration on Tuesday night, a Ramadan sohour with fatta, fuul and eggs was being served. Mahfouz's wife was sitting at the same table with actor Nour
El-Sherif, of Al-Hagg Metwalli fame. Actress Leila Elwy, who is currently starring in a TV drama adapted from a Mahfouz tale
(Hadith al-Sabah wal Massa) also showed up for the festivities, and promptly had her arm decorated by the henna artist who was making rounds.
Mahfouz -- the birthday boy -- was not there -- but he did send a video greeting thanking everyone for coming. In the video Mahfouz sported a new look for his 90th birthday. Because the skin round his chin has become quite sensitive, he has grown a
goattee, and it certainly makes him look even wiser than the aura he already exudes.
But this was not just a birthday party -- and even if it was, the present wasn't going to
Mahfouz, but to Somaya Ramadan, the author who won this year's Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for her first novel Leaves of
Narcisus. The prize is awarded annually by AUC to the most promising Arabic novel, which is then translated into English. The judges said that Ramadan's work was "marked by a hallucinating and captivating narration... writing while gazing at the abyss of being."
The same could definitely be said of the great Mahfouz's 40 novels and collections of short stories published over the span of a 60-year literary career.
At the birthday tent Mahfouz's books were on display, including a new collection of his most recent columns from
Al-Ahram, and a complete set of the 20 of his novels which have been translated into English. Hung on the tent's walls were framed sketches inspired by scenes from Mahfouz's work, which is steeped in the social, political and cultural transformations of both modern and ancient Egypt.
The tent was packed with literary and journalistic luminaries -- TV crews were busy conducting interviews, while writers like Bahaa
Taher, journalists like Salama Ahmed Salama, and cartoonists like Gomaa Farahat mingled with actors, professors and fans of
At 11 pm the lights were dimmed and a film was screened. Based on the Mahfouz novel Bidaya wa Nihaya (The Beginning and the End), and directed by the legendary Salah Abu
Seif, the film, starring Omar Sharif and Farid Shawky, was one of those classics that seem to live on and continue to reflect essential human truths no matter how much the world has changed.
In the photo above, AUC Press director Mark Linz (left) gives an interview while playwright Mohamed Salmawy -- a lifelong friend of Mahfouz's -- looks on.
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