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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

In the Time of Love

Naguib Mahfouz

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To purchase In the Time of Love

Title: In the Time of Love
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1980 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 119 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: In the Time of Love - US
In the Time of Love - UK
In the Time of Love - Canada
In the Time of Love - India
Il tempo dell'amore - Italia
  • Arabic title: عصر الحب
  • Translated by Kay Heikkinen

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Our Assessment:

B : fine, compact family tale of modern Egypt

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The central character of In the Time of Love is Ezzat Abdel Baqi, but the novel begins with the powerful figure of his mother, the widow Sitt Ain, already fifty years old when her son is still only six. A very wealthy woman, she is the dominant figure in the neighborhood, and also widely respected; she is also very generous -- indeed: "She became a legend because of her mercy." She also looks younger than her years, but there's no gossip about her -- and this is a neighborhood where everyone knows everyone's business --, as she: "was protected not only by her chastity, but above all her strong personality."
       Ezzat is the center of her life, and she tries to raise him right, but he's not a very ambitious student. Instead: "He loved two contradictory things, religious devotion and dominion." He makes a good friend, Hamdoun, at school, and it's the much more studious Hamdoun that helps him complete his studies. Despite being a good student, however, Hamdoun's ambition has always been to be an actor and playwright, and it's that which he devotes himself to as soon as he can; Ezzat, on the other hand, half-heartedly begins studying law.
       The two boys also love the same girl, Badriya. Because of her often-married mother Sitt Ain does not think she is an appropriate candidate to be Ezzat's wife, but he still tries his best to win her. When her father rejects him Hamdoun steps forward and elopes with her: where Ezzat essentially declared his "powerlessness and accepted reality", Hamdoun chose to act. It is a betrayal that Ezzat cannot easily forgive.
       Ezzat marries, but is not passionate about his wife. They have a son, Samir, too, but even that is not sufficient to get Ezzat on the right track. Instead, he finds himself in a state of languishing ambitions, wondering:

Where did this paralysis come from ? Was it from his own life, which had turned into sleepy stupidity ?
       When he meets Hamdoun again he sees an opportunity to strike out on his own, as a theater producer, managing Hamdoun and Badriya's troupe. It's something he has to hide from his mother, because it's the sort of occupation that would be frowned upon in their conservative neighborhood, but in any case he soon abandons his wife and child (and mother) for the world of theater. They are quite successful, but Handoun's political activities lead to a disaster -- exacerbated by Ezzat's actions.
       Eventually Ezzat reestablishes contact with his now almost grown son, after years of neglecting him. But here, yet again, is a case of too little, too late, as the politically active Samir soon also is cut off again from his father.
       Ezzat concludes -- rather late in life --:
What I really need is peace of mind. What I really need is to be satisfied with myself. Does what they call satisfaction really exist ? How can a man find it ?
       Ezzat certainly has done a bad job of it. He eventually tries to return to the family-fold, but it's also rather late in the day to do that.
       In the Time of Love is a short novel, but it doesn't feel like Ezzat's life has simply been condensed: though the action stretches over decades, the generally aimless Ezzat is very well and fully portrayed -- as are the ways of the close-knit and gossip-infested neighborhood where his umbrella-toting mother reigns, as well as the Cairo theater and nightclub scene.
       Mahfouz has a nice narrative touch -- beginning already with the very opening of the novel:
     The narrator says:
     But who is the narrator ? Shouldn't we give him a word of introduction ?
     He is not a specific person who can be identified historically, for he is neither man nor woman, without identity or name. Perhaps he is the essence of whispers or words spoken aloud
       There are only a few of these flights of introspective fancy, but even the more straightforward narrative is well and engagingly presented, a sweeping slice of Egyptian lives and character study, all in a very short novel. It may seem relatively unremarkable, but works very well as a simple novel of the times, and there is more resonance to it than the surface first suggests.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 November 2010

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In the Time of Love: Reviews: Naguib Mahfouz: Other books by Naguib Mahfouz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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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.

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