The Quarter, Roger Allen, Naguib Mahfouz, The Cairo Trilogy, The Children Of The Alley, The Thief And The Dogs

The manuscript of these narratives was found in a drawer with a note attached stating, ‘To be published in 1994’. This is how Roger Allen, the long-time translator of Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, reveals in his introduction to The Quarter. A collection of recently-discovered short stories translated into English from Arabic, this 89-pager is an exceptional treasure trove for familiarizing us with the life, works and politics of the world of Mahfouz, Egypt’s most eminent writer who, in a career of more than five decades, wrote 24 novels, including the The Cairo Trilogy, The Children Of The Alley and The Thief And The Dogs. All the 18 stories take place in, as the title suggests, in a single hara (quarter) of Cairo, with each offering a slice of life in an anonymous district filled with energy, enthusiasm and people both good and bad. His simple, detailed writing makes you believe you have known the characters and places for long. One of the stories in this collection ends with a striking dialogue. “I’ve enough misery to deal with," says one of the characters, to which the other responds: “So have I. Each one needs the other."

With such simple words, Mahfouz reminds us of the difficult path in front of us and the help on offer beside us. If your new year resolution is to read more books, let The Quarter be the first one on the list.