Originally written in Arabic by Egypian author Naguib Mafouz, The Mirage was my selection for the ‘Classic in Translation’ category of the 2016 Back to the Classics challenge.
Plot: Kamil Ru’ba is a shy young man who has always found it difficult to relate to anyone outside of his immediate family. After his mother’s death, he takes up a pen to write his own life story, in an attempt to help him make sense of it for himself.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first picked up this novel, as I’ve not really been exposed to much middle eastern literature beyond a few Arabic fairy tales. Now that I’m finished it I’m sure there were probably things I missed – cultural references and so on – in spite of the brief glossary of terms at the end. I’m much more familiar with the history of Egypt in the time of the pharaohs than modern Egypt.
I was surprised that the novel was first published in 1948, particularly when you take into account the frequent, sometimes graphic sexual references. I find it hard to imagine such things being welcomed by English-speaking publishing houses of the time. Nevertheless, I found the story engaging and read the second half of the novel (240 pages worth) in a single sitting.
I’m having a hard time thinking of any other books to compare The Mirage to. I found that the narrator spent as much time examining his thoughts and feelings as his actions, far more eloquently than his low level of education would suggest. This did make it hard for me to lose myself in the narrative at first, but eventually I was able to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the ending.