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Naguib Mahfouz

Image of Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz, who in 1988 became the Arab world's first Nobel laureate in literature, has authored roughly sixty books covering virtually every style and genre of fiction. He has also produced numerous movie scripts and scenarios, including for many of the top films in Arab cinema history. Little known beyond his native region before his Nobel, his works now appear in over four hundred editions in thirty languages, evidently making him the writer to have most benefited in world recognition and sales as a result of this honor. In February 2005, he was named in the shortlist for the first Man Booker International Prize for fiction. In 1957, he won Egypt's highest plaudit in this field, the State Prize for Literature, for his legendary Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street). In 1992, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters as an honorary member, and he has received countless other awards internationally. This notoriety has also brought with it unprecedented perils. In 1994, Mahfouz narrowly survived an attempt on his life by an Islamist fanatic, apparently ordered by Shaykh Omar Abdel-Rahman, a close associate of Osama bin Laden, now serving life in a U.S. prison for conspiring to blow up key targets including the World Trade Center in New York. The attack on Mahfouz--the first of its kind on any Nobelist--was in retaliation for his novel Children of the Alley (1959), an allegedly blasphemous allegory of humanity's journey from the Garden of Eden through the era of advanced science, still banned from Arabic publication in book form in Egypt by al-Azhar, the nation's great center of Islamic orthodoxy. After a swift and controversial military trial, two young men were hanged and eleven others sentenced to prison for conspiring in the assault and for plotting against the State. His writing hand partially paralyzed by the assailant's blade in his neck, after several years of intensive physiotherapy, Mahfouz resumed his creative output in 1999. He died in 2006.

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