Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
9 - 15 December 1999
Issue No. 459
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

One-shot wonders

Naguib Mahfouz There are writers who publish one immensely successful novel, then sink once more into the oblivion from which they rose. If they do manage to produce another work, it is rarely anything like the first in terms of critical acclaim. This is usually due to the fact that the writer has been through a major experience, or discovered something very new, so everyone wants to read all about it and millions of copies of the book are sold.

Being on the best-seller list, however, usually has more to do with subject matter than with talent; take away the content, which more often than not is beyond the writer's control in these cases, and you are left with very little. Any educated person could have written exactly the same book, give or take a few words: there is no individual philosophical world-view, no contribution to literature as such.

This is why such writers are so often one-shot wonders: it is very rare for a person to experience an event of earth-shattering importance more than once or twice in a lifetime.

I believe it is very important to make a clear distinction between real literature that achieves mass appeal, like Balzac's work, or that of Dickens, and those based solely on the value of the experience being recounted.

Based on an interview by Mohamed Salmawy.

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