Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006) left a huge library of novels, plays, and works dedicated to him…So, what do those dedications say?
Egyptian writer Tareq al-Taher sought after the answer in the books gifted to the late writer and looked at around 1,500 ‘handwritten’ dedications by many Arab and Egyptian authors and novelists, who were keen to praise Mahfouz using their unique words.
The search journey ended up by collecting these dedications in one book, and inspired Taher to organize the “Dedications of Politicians and Intellects to the Nobel Prize Winner” exhibition at the Naguib Mahfouz Museum, in the Complex of Abu El-Dahab, the historic neighborhood of Al-Azhar. The exhibition will run until December 20 as part of Egypt’s celebration of Mahfouz’s 110 anniversary.
“Naguib Mahfouz has received myriads of dedications from writers, critics, clerics, politicians, military men, judges, artists, Arabists, orientalists, and researchers. In those dedications, I have seen letters, even documents, that we should all carefully read to explore a hidden history about the only Arab writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1988,” Taher told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“Those dedications are a handwritten treasure and an unseen biography of Naguib Mahfouz. Over decades, the late great writer built special connections with those who dedicated their writings to him. He kept their words and they become an integral part of his biography. Pushed by my passion for documentations, and search in celebrities’ libraries, I investigated these small emotional texts, analyzed their content, and dived in their cultural and critical significance and social hints. I found common dedications with greetings and friendly expressions, as well as early dedications dating back to the 1940s, predicting the brilliance of Mahfouz long before he received his Nobel Prize,” he added.
Mahfouz was given many titles showing that most of his peers saw him as a distinguished writer. Some called him the ‘leader’ like writer Sakina Fouad in 1982, six years before he won the Nobel Prize. She dedicated her novel “The Night of Fatima’s Arrest,” to Mahfouz, saying: “To the leader of the novel tribe… all my love, appreciation, and pride.”
For his part, author and intellect Tawfiq Al-Hakim wrote in the dedication of his popular book “Spring and Autumn Journey,”: “To the novel and story genius Naguib Mahfouz…with infinite love and pride.”
Among the other titles were also the professor, conqueror, narrator, big novelist, and great thinker…and many more that– according to the exhibition’s curator – reflect the admiration the Nobel Prize winner enjoyed. Those words also highlight the relationship Mahfouz built with his entourage, and the brilliant future his peers expected for him.
The exhibition displays a dedication by novelist Tharwat Abaza in his book “From Arab Anecdotes”, reading: “To my brother, professor, and friend, the leader of the Arabic story, Naguib Bek Mahfouz…with my endless love and admiration.” Another one by intellect Mustafa Mahmoud in his play “Alexander the Great” saying: “To Abu Al Nogb…with my Love.”
Dedications by Rajaa al-Nakkash, Fathi Radwan, Jehan Sadat, Suhaib al-Kalmawi, Jamal al-Ghaitani, Emile Habibi, Jihad al-Kabisi, and George Tarabishi, reflect the respectful and amiable connection that related them to the late Nobel Prize winner.
Author Tharwat Abaza, who was eager to dedicate all his works to the Nobel Prize-winner, and despite he was the same age as Mahfouz, describes the latter as his “professor.” Critic Ali al-Rai’ also saw Mahfouz as “the friend and human writer,” while Aisha Abdul Rahman called him the “colleague and friend.”