Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Final Hour

Naguib Mahfouz

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Final Hour

Title: The Final Hour
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1982 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 163 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: The Final Hour - US
The Final Hour - UK
The Final Hour - Canada
The Final Hour - India
  • Arabic title: الباقي من الزمن ساعة
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Roger Allen

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : compact panoramic look at several decades of recent Egyptian life and history

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Final Hour is largely set in the Cairene suburb of Helwan (with repeated mention of its Japanese Garden), in a single household. It begins with a photograph, taken in 1932, that Saniya al-Mahdi, the family matriarch, turns to whenever she feels nostalgic. The photograph is a family portrait, of her when she was forty, her husband, Hamid Burhan, when he was fifty, and their three then-adolescent children, Kawthar, Muhammad, and Munira, and:

The entire photograph invokes a sense of utter sweetness, with no sign of the times even slightly evident.
       Yet the times -- then, and in the decades that followed, up to almost 1980 -- can't be kept at bay otherwise, and The Final Hour is a compact novel of how they affect this family, and how the family gets through them. "Helwan's far removed from such problems", Saniya says reassuringly at one point, but it is no true oasis (or Japanese garden ...), as events and the times reach even there.
       Pater familias Hamid eventually bails on his family, taking up with another woman, and it is Saniya who remains the dominant family figure over the decades. She also often has dreams in which she foresees the future (and the bad outcomes that come with it) -- though she tends not to share these.
       Mahfouz uses this family -- extending also to the next generation, as the children marry and have kids of their own -- to offer a quick overview of recent Egyptian history. Characters are largely only peripherally involved in the greater events of the day -- though some are jailed (for their political leanings, among other things), or injured in battle -- but the societal and political shifts all reverberate on the domestic level as well. From political activism -- Wafdism, the Muslim Brotherhood, Nasserism -- to the effects of inflation (and how even the cook just leaves for a better-paying job in the Gulf states once the oil boom begins) to the effects of technological advances ("The television is giving young girls the kind of information that used to only be available to mature teenagers !"), The Final Hour touches upon many of the significant changes Egypt has undergone through this part of the twentieth century. By the 1970s the Helwan property is worth millions (or at least a million) and the younger generations are eager to see it sold off, to everyone's benefit -- while Saniya wants to cling to it.
       Few historical figures are named: Nasserism is invoked more often than Nasser himself, whose name is only mentioned upon his death, and others leaders and significant figures are only referred to, rather than named. Similarly, many of the significant events are treated almost as givens, with little explanation or elaboration what exactly took place, which can make it difficult (despite a helpful glossary) for some readers to follow easily.
       Mahfouz is clearly working with his audience's familiarity with events; it is effective -- as, for example, in his description of the 1967 conflict, which begins:
At nine o'clock on the morning of Monday, June 5th, 1967, the air-raid sirens went off, and what happened happened.
       Clearly, however, many of the descriptions and allusions may be too oblique for readers not as familiar with recent Egyptian history.
       The generational divides are also a major theme here, the reluctant allowing the younger generations their way summed up in Muhammad's resigned:
I'll give in, even though I hate the idea. I'm very unhappy, for myself, for you, for the future, and for everything around us. The earth's attraction has died, and everything's floating off into space.
       The Final Hour is far from entirely downbeat, but it is filled with moments of this sort of overwhelming unhappiness in the face of the insurmountable. There are few turns for the better here, with each successive regime offering hope and bringing disillusionment (with religious faith offering some comfort but hardly more). It's a fine novel of modern Egyptian history, but simply too compact and crowded (with its succession of family members, too few of whom are developed enough to truly stand out) and one is left itching for more. Still, there are sufficient rewards here, and it is well worth reading.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 November 2010

- Return to top of the page -


The Final Hour: Naguib Mahfouz: Other books by Naguib Mahfouz under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz (نجيب محفوظ, Nagib Machfus) was born in 1911 and died in 2006 He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1988.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2010-2021 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links