Al-Ahram Weekly Online   16 - 22 June 2005
Issue No. 747
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Naguib Mahfouz

The Arab novel

By Naguib Mahfouz

I am shocked that some people still argue that the novel as a form is somehow alien to the Arab tradition. Story telling is a deep-rooted part of our culture. The Quran itself includes superb examples of story-telling. Indeed, I first became fascinated with story-telling through the Quran, a work of astounding literary power.

Even before Islam the Arabs told fascinating stories in their poetry. And once Islam was accepted as the true faith, the Arabs went on to produce the One Thousand and One Nights, a work that inspired novelists across the world to this day.

What strikes me about story-telling in the Quran is its extraordinary approach to dramatic sequence. Most Quranic stories are not told in chronological order but are arranged contextually. This is very much what modern novelists do.

It was only after James Joyce and Marcel Proust began experimenting with new writing techniques that novelists learned that a story can start at any given point and be developed independently of chronology.

Based on an interview by Mohamed Salmawy.


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