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by Naguib Mahfouz, date unreported but possibly early 1995

I am walking aimlessly without anywhere in particular to go, when suddenly I encounter a surprising event like nothing I had ever imagined:

Every step I take turns the street upside-down into a circus. The walls and buildings and cars and passers-by all disappear, and in their place a big top arises with its tiered seats and long hanging ropes, filled with trapezes and animal cages, with actors and acrobats and musclemen and even a clown.

At first I am so happy that I could soar with joy. But as I move from street to street, the miracle is repeated over and over; my pleasure subsides and my irritation grows, as I tire from the walking and the looking around, until I long in my soul to go back to my home.

But just as I delight once again to see the face of the familiar world, and trust that soon my relief will arrive, I open my door--and find the clown there to greet me, giggling.


Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988. In 1994, an Islamist stabbed him; during his convalescence, he was unable to write anything long. He published a series of ultrashort stories, called Ahlam Fatrat al-Naqaha, literally "Dreams of the Recovery Period," published in English as THE DREAMS in 2004, translated by Raymond Stock. It's a collection of 104 dream-stories, undated and untitled. Steeped in longing, eerie with dislocation, haunted by dead friends (Mahfouz was pushing 90 at the time) and authorities worthy of Kafka, his dreams are universal in feeling yet echo both his and Egypt's troubles. The style is elusive; I'm unsure if that's the writer or the translator.

I have excerpted three dreams to encourage you to read the other hundred. Mahfouz simply numbers them (this is dream 5); I've titled them here for convenience.

LISTS AND LINKS: dream parades and circuses - surreal dreams - city life - Egypt - two other dreams by Naguib Mahfouz: The Leap and Rubbish

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