Echoes of an Autobiography is an unusual book. It is filled with “aphorisms, parables, and allegories” from the life and imagination of Naguib Mahfouz. In the Foreward to the book, written by Nadine Gordimer, she describes these pieces as “meditations which echo that which was, has been, and is the writer, Mahfouz. They are–in the words of the title of one of the prose pieces–“The Dialogue of Late Afternoon” of his life.”
I found this book to be an interesting read, but can’t pretend that I understood all of these prose pieces. Some were too obscure for me, some were culturally too foreign to me, but some were little nuggets of wisdom or insight. I was intrigued by the idea of writing an “autobiography” in a series of short little non-chronological memories, insights, and flights of imagination. And I enjoyed his attempt to capture moments of feeling, inspiration, understandings, or experiences from his long life.
Here are two examples of his “meditations…”
I stood above the opening to the grave, casting a farewell glance at the body of the loved one that they were preparing for its final rest. His ringing laughter came to me from the beautiful past, so I gazed around me but saw only the solemn faces of the mourners.
On the way back by the cemetery road, a friend whispered in my ear, “What about a moment’s rest at the cafe?”
The invitation brought a tremor of delight to my nerves. I took off briskly to where there was someplace to sit, to the glass of ice water, the spicy coffee, and the intimate talk of those who are going to follow those who have gone before.
Who is this old man who leaves his home each morning to walk about, getting as much exercise as he can?
He is the sheikh, the teacher of Arabic, who was retired more than twenty years ago.
Whenever he feels tired he sits down on the pavement, or on the stone wall of the garden of a house, leaning on his stick and drying his sweat with the end of his flowing gallabiya. The quarter knows him and the people love him; but seldom does anyone greet him, because of his weak memory and senses. He has forgotten relatives and neighbors, students and the rules of grammar.