I love Mahfouz’s neighborhoods. Every time I read his work, I can see them, smell them; he’s so good at putting me in them. And Children of the Alley is no exception. The story moves through generations. Certain characters stand out. So does the mansion. But it is the alley, and its various neighborhoods – complete with wedding processions, rooftop arguments, tea shops,and drug dens – that help bring this story to life.

And what a story it is. There are, with its decreasingly less visible patriarch, desert and ‘city,’ some obvious Biblical parallels. There are also tremendous insights into the politics of groups (not unrelated to Biblical issues, I know). All of this is told in a kind of detached, fable-like voice. Who is that narrator?

There is hope here. Though the alley has a habit (a curse?) of forgetting, hope returns from generation to generation. But it is a politically and religiously compromised hope. This, in my opinion, makes it all the more true.

A wonderful, if slightly long read. Perhaps not the best choice for your first Mahfouz, but an essential read for the Mahfouz fan.

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