Having just finished last year's birthday book from Brook, Battle Royale, I decided to read this year's birthday gift from Brook right away. I didn't want to not read it the year I received it, and I knew I wouldn't take it to Italy with me in October - I'll only be taking old musty books with me that I'll happily leave behind me as I go.
Brook had actually done admirably at not buying me a book for my birthday this year; we're already drowning in books here, plus I think he wanted to be the only person to abstain from book-giving.
He sent me to the spa for my birthday (which wasn't cheap) and then took me to dinner. But we ended up browsing in Book City on Bloor after dinner and he saw The Harafish and couldn't resist buying it for me...primarily because it has incredibly short chapters (often less than a page, so good for reading during busy times). But it also passed the page 40 test and it has a loose spine and a nice font.
Most importantly, it turns out, it's just a really good book. I started it earlier tonight while making dinner (my old favourite, Spinach Coconut Soup) and decided to keep reading it when the movie Brook put on - The Aristocrats - proved to be too boring and crude for my tastes.
So, yes, I'm really enjoying The Harafish. It's an epic of the lives of everyday people, which based on the only other book of Mahfouz's I've read (Midaq Alley), seems to be a common theme for him. ("Harafish," according to the translator's note at the beginning of the book, historically means the rabble or riffraff, and here means "the common people" in a positive sense.)
What I'm liking most about this book is its compelling blend of mysticism, myth, and harsh realism - it's like Rumi and Charles Dickens got together and wrote the impossible novel!
I just looked up Mahfouz on the Internet. I already knew he'd won the Nobel Prize for Literature at some point, but I just found out that he died only last August at the age of 94. During his long career, he wrote hundreds of short stories and 34 novels - the most famous of which are part of The Cairo Trilogy.
My first encounter with Mahfouz was when I discovered Midaq Alley on one of our bookshelves; Brook picked it up one day and I finally found my way to it. So far, I think The Harafish is vastly superior.