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Dreamed by Naguib Mahfouz, date uncertain; 2001?

Beneath a leafy tree sat my friend from my early days who was martyred for love of country. Though it had been decades since his death, he looked quite elegant and in the pink of health and cheer. The sight of him made my chest flutter as I rushed toward him...

But he halted me with a wave of his walking stick. I reminded him of our time as friends, but he paid no heed to my words, saying only "I have run out of patience regarding the neighborhood rubbish heap." After this speech, he threw down his stick and went away, leaving me sad.

Yet I swelled up with a new spirit and hurried immediately to the trash pile, raining a hail of blows all over it with his cane. Each blow cut a gap in it: and from each gap men and women emerged whose appearance was nothing like garbage! Indeed, they were models of cleanliness, prestige, and respectability. Each time one of them appeared, they jumped with terror of the rod in my hand.

Following this, I became utterly convinced that the sun would rise tomorrow over a world of greenery and pristine air.


Does Mahfouz's dream truly propose we beat the poor till they flinch in terror, to heal their ills? It's a hell of a social program. Do his dreams read right-wing bloggers? Yet what an image--out of the trash rise the elegant futurians we were always promised! Here they are at last, the healthy, wealthy people we never quite become. Discipline's all we need, it seems, to bring the brave new world...

...the brave new world, cowering under the stick of an old man abandoned by his friend.

And yet, an old man with hope. More than hope. Certainty, now. It will come.


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 76); I've titled them here for convenience.

LISTS AND LINKS: revenants (the dead returning) - rich and poor: dreams of social class - direct action - violence - dreams of sociology - economics - money - prejudice - Egypt - two other dreams by Naguib Mahfouz: The Leap and Clown

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