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The legacy of a laureate

Deseret News (Salt Lake City), Sep 7, 2006 by Deseret Morning News editorial

Mahfouz. It's not a name that sticks in the mind -- even when it belongs to a man who won the most prestigious award in literature, the Nobel Prize.

Last week, Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian novelist, died at age 94.

This week, one hopes his legacy of openness and compassion will finally begin to filter out to readers everywhere.

Mahfouz didn't write about the world. He wrote about a little neighborhood in his beloved Cairo. But he showed that every type of hero, fear, crime and longing could be found there.

In 1992, Mahfouz called for religious tolerance and was stabbed by an Islamic militant. He recovered from his wounds and soldiered on. In his long career he wrote 34 novels along with many plays, essays and stories. He won the Nobel Prize in 1988.

As he aged, Mahfouz became a voice of reason in an age of extremism. He supported the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1979 and condemned the death sentence issued by Muslim clerics against author Salman Rushdie. He called Ayatollah Khomeini a terrorist. In honoring him, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak called Mahfouz "a cultural light," a man who "expressed values of enlightenment and tolerance."

Like Charles Dickens, Mahfouz would walk the streets of the city early in the morning to gather sights, sounds, smells and insights. He rarely left Cairo -- even sending his daughters to Stockholm to receive his Nobel Prize.

In his novel, "Wedding Song," he describes a writer who sounds eerily like the author himself.

"The days passed by, my agony increased," he writes. "Sitting at the typewriter, I was suddenly overcome with a longing for freedom, for my lost humanity and for my dissipated creativity. ... I pictured a world, a righteous world, with no sin, no bonds -- a world throbbing with creativity, innovation and thought."

He was a small man, but what he had to say will forever remain large in the minds of those who read him.

Copyright C 2006 Deseret News Publishing Co.
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

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