Naguib Mahfouz died yesterday, aged 94. He was a prolific and talented writer whose Cairo Trilogy – “Palace Walk,” “Palace of Desire” and “Sugar Street” – is a masterpiece of wit, irony and domestic tragedy. In 1994 he was attacked by an extremist who objected to the liberal sentiments in some of his novels which had been described as blasphemous, but Mahfouz refused to allow such fanaticism to blunt his writing.
There are many Arab and/or Muslim writers whose work should be read much more widely in the West, Attia Hosain and Amin Maalouf to name just two – but Mahfouz, in addition, had the brilliant style that made his world concrete, no matter how alien to our understanding, that justly earned him the Nobel prize for literature.
He was a great writer and a humane, liberal man – committed to the cause of peace. He has died at a time when the world can least afford to lose talented and influential peacemakers. We shall miss him, and his influence, even those of us who will never read his work.