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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Wedding Song

Naguib Mahfouz

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To purchase Wedding Song

Title: Wedding Song
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1981 (Eng. 1984)
Length: 128 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Wedding Song - US
in Respected Sir/Wedding Song/The Search - US
in Respected Sir/Wedding Song/The Search - UK
in Respected Sir/Wedding Song/The Search - Canada
Canto di nozze - Italia
Festejos de boda - España
  • Arabic title: أفراح القبة
  • Translated by Olive E. Kenny; edited and revised by Mursi Saad El Din and John Rodenbeck

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Our Assessment:

B+ : cleverly layered, well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 12/11/1989 Muhammad Siddiq
The Times . 31/3/1990 Nessim Dawood

  From the Reviews:
  • "In theme, structure, and style, Wedding Song reveals Mahfouz's post-1967 groping for new approaches to the fast- changing social scene around him. (...) While the withdrawal of the author from the text and the attempt to mix genres point in the direction of post-modernist writing, the appropriation of the idea and structure of Hamlet to the Egyptian context is a typical Mahfouzian move." - Muhammad Siddiq, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Cunningly constructed like a fine mosaic, this novel is almost a repeat performance of an earlier, and in my opinion a much more engaging novel of Mahfouz -- Miramar" - Nessim Dawood, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Wedding Song is presented in four parts, each one narrated by a different character. All four are closely connected: the husband and wife Karam and Halima, their son Abbas, and a co-worker who rented a room in their house for a while, Tariq. They are all associated with a local theater, too: Karam long worked as a prompter there -- a job Abbas took over for a while -- and Halima got her start as a cashier (and met her future husband) there; Tariq has long been an actor at the theater.
       The four accounts overlap, rather than simply proceeding chronologically one after the other, presenting four different perspectives on circumstances and events, many of which more than one of them were involved in -- with each account also filling in additional detail, both background and about what then unfolded.
       The story revolves around a play that Abbas has written, titled Afrah al-Qubbah (the transliterated Arabic title of the novel, too, -- one that translator Olive E. Kenny notes in a brief explanatory Foreword has "multiple ironies" in Arabic; it's unclear why the English title -- good enough for the novel, after all -- isn't used in the text itself). The play is accepted by the theater they have all been associated with and then staged, with Tariq in a featured role -- a star turn for the aging actor who never had a break-out role. It is, however, closely based on real events: as Tariq complains (or warns) when the play is accepted:

It's a confession. It's the truth. We ourselves are actually actors in it.
       Abbas' art doesn't imitate life, it faithfully mirrors it, and bares it for all -- horrible blemishes and all.
       Apparently, Abbas had married a woman Tariq had been involved with, Tahiya, and had a child with her -- but both died. And Tariq suggests the play: "shows that Tahiya didn't just die. She was murdered" -- as was the child. And not only does the play suggest Abbas was responsible for these deaths, in it he also admits betraying his parents along the way.
       The theater owner has no problem staging it:
The truth is, we have a great play. And I am, as you know, the owner of a theater, not a public prosecutor.
       The play is a great success, but Abbas doesn't bask in the glory; he stays away from the theater and eventually disappears from the pension he's been staying at, leaving a note saying he was going to commit suicide -- just as the hero of his play had.
       The novel begins with Tariq's account, which begins with the first readings of Abbas' play. After the play has been accepted, Tariq goes to visit Abbas' parents -- the household he had rented a room in for a time -- and tells them about what's coming; they also come to the opening night and see it for themselves. Scenes Tariq describes -- his encounter with the parents; the parents coming to the play -- are also described by Karam and Halima in turn, with snatches of the same dialogue repeated. But each account also fills in more of the past -- what Abbas put into his play.
       From how Karam and Halima got together, to the downfall that led to them spending time in prison and then, more recently, re-starting a different kind of life, away from the theater, readers slowly learn the different characters' histories. Karam is not wealthy, and never earned much as a prompter at the theater, but he did inherit a large house -- the site of so much that caused all these problems. Tariq rented a room there, and brought Tahiya into the household -- and young Abbas tried to save her, but could only do so to a certain extent. As to the tragedy of Tahiya and her child's death, that is only revealed late on.
       Karam and Halima's marriage is, by now, a pretty miserable one -- with Halima's admission of what happened to her when she began working at the theater something that Karam can't help but hold against her. The couple are disappointed and frustrated, as is Tariq, and these morose and unpleasant characters -- and their grumbling and fighting -- can be a bit wearing -- redeemed only slightly by the final account, by Abbas, which is the fullest one in presenting the circumstances and events of the past.
       The picture of the theater milieu and life presented here is a dark one, its ugly underside fully exposed; the personal failings of the characters are also on full display. Yet with a nice touch of black humor, Mahfouz has his theater director laughing all the way to this success, unconcerned about what the revealing play says about him and those around him. The play is a huge success, and so performances go on and on, the story repeated nightly (with Tariq forced to relive his part, day after day ...).
       Abbas' play -- unseen, but otherwise fully realized -- makes for a neat foundation for the novel as a whole. Meanwhile, Mahfouz artfully, slowly fills in the details of these characters' lives, making for a story that, in a sense, blossoms into a richer, more nuanced one page by page. It's very well done, but with its character-studies -- each of the main characters essentially holding up a mirror, and reflecting on all that went wrong (because that's what their pasts largely amount to, things going wrong) -- Wedding Song is also more than just a fine technical accomplishment.
       A somewhat grim tale, but an impressive, powerful little novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 August 2018

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Wedding Song: 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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