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Naguib Mahfouz: لاد حارتنا (Children of Gebelawi; Children of the Alley)

This book was Mahfouz’s most controversial novel. It was published after a seven year break from publication. It turned away from his traditional realism and portrayed a straightforward allegory of the prophets. Nominally it is the story of the inhabitants of an alley set up and owned by their ancestor, who also sets the rules for the alley, called the Ten Conditions, i.e. Ten Commandments, Gebelawi, who is clearly an allegory for God. Gebelawi is not seen, living alone in his house. We hear the stories of the five main inhabitants, each of whom has tried to help the poor and oppressed inhabitants of the alley. The first and favoured one is Adham (Adam), followed by Idris (Iblis), who is angry at Adham for being favoured. Gabal (Moses) is next and it is he takes the people off into the desert when things get really bad in the alley. He is followed by Rifaa (Jesus) and then Qasim (Mohammed) and the book ends with Arafa (modern man) who replaces Gebelawi with science and magic. Mahfouz, as usual, leaves us with the possibility of hope at the end but it is certainly not clear-cut.

The novel caused considerable controversy on publication after being first published in newspaper form in Al Ahram, as it portrayed Mohammed (though did not mention him by name). It was not published in book form in Egypt but in Lebanon. Despite the fact that the Lebanese version has been distributed in Egypt, that it has been published in Egyptian newspapers and that it was published in English in Egypt, it has never been published in Arabic in Egypt. When it was cited, after Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize, the controversy was reignited and it is believed that, at least in part, Mahfouz’s subsequent stabbing was because of this book. During his lifetime, Mahfouz refused to push for its publication in Egypt.

Publishing history

First published in 1962 by Dar al-Adab, Beirut
First English translation in 1990 by Three Continents Press (as Children of Gebelawi); 1966 by Doubleday (as Children of the Alley)
Translated by Philip Stewart (Children of Gebelawi), Peter Theroux (Children of the Alley)