Half a Day
Naguib Mahfouz 1989
Recognized as a prominent author in his own country of Egypt, Naguib Mahfouz was not widely known in the Western world until receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. After receiving the award, he gained international recognition as one of the more important writers of the twentieth century. In 1989 “Half a Day” was first published in Arabic as part of a short story collection entitled The False Dawn in 1991 “HalfaDay” was included in an English-language collection entitled The Time and the Place. “Half a Day” belongs to the later phase of Mahfouz’s literary career, which is characterized by a shift from social realism to a more modern, experimental mode of writing. It is a very short (5-page) allegorical tale in which the narrator begins the day as a young boy entering school for the first time, but leaves the schoolyard an old man whose life has passed in what seemed like only “half a day.” The central allegorical implications of this tale are a commentary on the human condition; an entire life span is experienced as only “half a day” in the school of life. The story also alludes to the cycle of life, whereby the narrator passes through childhood, middle age and old age in the course of one day. Critic Rasheed El-Enany, in Naguib Mahfouz, has called “Half a Day” a “technical tour de force.” El-Enany explains that “brief as it is, the story must count as the author’s most powerful rendering of the dilemma of the gulf between observable time and mnemonic time.” Author Biography
In 1911 Mahfouz was born in Cairo, Egypt, the youngest of seven children in a lower middle-class family. His father was a strict Muslim and he was raised in a strong religious atmosphere. He earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy from the University of Fuad (now Cairo University) in 1934. Although his first short story was published in 1932, Mahfouz did not decide to become a writer until two years after graduating from college. He also maintained a career as an Egyptian bureaucrat. His first position was in the Ministry of Waqfs, the body overseeing pious Muslim foundations. He held many bureaucratic positions—primarily in relation to the national film industry, as director of the Censorship Office, director and chairman of the Cinema Support Organization, and counselor for Cinema Affairs to the Minister of Culture. He retired from bureaucratic work in 1971, after which he has continued to publish novels, short stories, and memoirs. Mahfouz has traveled abroad only twice in his life: once to Yugoslavia, and once to Yemen, both on government assignment. For many years, he has been part of a close social group of men who congregate in coffeehouses in Cairo, calling themselves “al Harafish” (“common people”). He has published more than thirty novels and fourteen collections of short stories. His first three novels, written between 1943 and 1945, are historical novels set in ancient Egypt. His next three novels, referred to as “The Trilogy,” published between 1956 and 1957, are set in lower middle-class sections of modern Cairo. This series of novels established Mahfouz as the foremost novelist in Egypt, and attracted international recognition. In addition to novels and short stories, he has written many screenplays for the Egyptian film industry. Between 1945 and 1960, he wrote many screen adaptations of the stories of other writers. After 1960 many of his own stories were adapted to the screen by other screenwriters. In 1988 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first Arabic language writer to be given the prize. As a result, many of his works were translated into different languages and international interest in his work grew. In 1994, Mahfouz was stabbed in an attack orchestrated by Islamic extremists, who had taken to heart condemnation by religious...
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