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Revised Editions of Mahfouz’s Novels Stir Controversy in Egypt

/ 13 Dec 2021

Revised Editions of Mahfouz’s Novels Stir Controversy in Egypt

Readers will soon be able to read revised editions of Naguib Mahfouz’s novels “without alterations,” Ahmed Al-Qarmalawi, director of the publishing department of Diwan Bookstore, recently announced. This statement raised controversy about whether there were alterations in previous editions of the celebrated Egyptian writer’s works.

Diwan, a Cairo bookstore chain that both sells and publishes books, recently obtained the rights to publish the works of Mahfouz, the only Arab novelist to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. (This year’s laureate, the Tanzanian-born writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, is of Arab origin but writes in English. See a related article, “Abdulrazak Gurnah: ‘Arab’ Nobel Laureate Is Little Known to Arabs”.)

Al-Qarmalawi, who is also a novelist, said Diwan has the exclusive rights to publish the complete works of Mahfouz for 15 years as of next May, when the contract the late novelist signed with Dar El Shorouk 20 years ago expires.

In December, a few days before the 110th anniversary of Mahfouz’s birth, Diwan signed a contract with the writer’s surviving daughter, Umm Kulthoum Mahfouz, to obtain the exclusive rights to publish his novels, in paper and audio. It also obtained non-exclusive rights, along with the Hindawi Publishing House, to publish his works as e-books.

“Such alterations were not just a few typographical or grammatical ones, but intentional changes, indicating that his publisher had intervened to try to get Mahfouz’s works to Arab countries, which used to ban them.”

Mohamed Shoair   Deputy editor-in-chief of the literary magazine Akhbar Al-Adab

The Hindawi Foundation said it had paid six million Egyptian pounds (around $381,000) for the rights to publish Mahfouz’s work electronically. The financial value and other terms of the Diwan contract were not disclosed.

After the announcement of the new publishing deal, Mahfouz’s previous publisher, Dar El-Shorouk, issued a new edition of his complete works in ten volumes, with new covers designed by the artist Ahmed El-Labbad.

Controversy Over ‘Revised’

In its statement, Diwan said it would publish “the revised works, using the latest paper, digital and audio publishing techniques, and work to extend his intellectual impact and preserve his unique literary legacy.”

Writers and publishers immediately questioned what this implied about previous editions.

The novelist and translator Ashraf El-Sabbagh asked: “Does the revision mentioned in the statement refer to the editions of Dar El-Shorouk, or a revision of the editions that have been distorted, destroyed, and subjected to religious fatwas and extremist ideas?”

Mohamed Shoair, deputy editor-in-chief of the literary magazine Akhbar Al-Adab, said that there is an artistic necessity for new editions of Mahfouz’s works to protect his legacy. “It is necessary to review his works from the original, following their first editions,” he said. “There are many alterations in all editions of Mahfouz’s works after he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1988.”

Shoair said he had inspected a number of Mahfouz’s manuscripts and observed alterations and omissions that affected the works. “Such alterations were not just a few typographical or grammatical ones, but intentional changes, indicating that his publisher had intervened to try to get Mahfouz’s works to Arab countries, which used to ban them.”

Shoair added: “A careful review of Mahfouz’s works, comparing them to the first editions, shows that many paragraphs and sentences have been omitted, apart from typos that sometimes lead to a complete change in meaning.” These alterations were reinforced in subsequent editions, he said.

Umm Khultoum with the Diwan publishing house's staff. The contract gives Diwan exclusive rights to publish the complete works of Naguib Mahfouz for 15 years as of next May. (Photo: Diwan)
Umm Khultoum with the Diwan publishing house's staff. The contract gives Diwan exclusive rights to publish the complete works of Naguib Mahfouz for 15 years as of next May. (Photo: Diwan)

“Scholars have counted 177 mistakes in Mahfouz’s ‘Autumn Quail’ novel alone,” Shoair said. “His ‘Echoes of an Autobiography’ also contains no less than 50 mistakes, some of which are catastrophic, since the original published by Al-Ahram newspaper included many of them.”

Typos and Censorship

Naim Sabry, an Egyptian novelist who was close to Mahfouz, said that the late writer “was keen to review his work himself until his health deteriorated. However, in his conversations with friends and admirers, he never grumbled about his publishers. I never heard a negative comment from him about them.”

Hussein Hammouda, a critic and professor of Arabic literature at Cairo University, told Al-Fanar Media that scholars should review Mahfouz’s work before it is reprinted to make it more accurate.

Mahfouz’s work had been attacked many times, Hammouda noted, and the author himself barely survived an assassination attempt in 1994. Injuries from the attack and declining health left him unable to review his work in his later years. (See a related article, “New Cairo Museum Honors Naguib Mahfouz but Doesn’t Inspire”.)

“The abuses of proofreaders and censors then began,” Hammouda said.

“Most of the mistakes were typos. … His latest writings, like ‘Dreams of the Convalescent Period’ and ‘Echoes of an Autobiography’, are full of mistakes because of the difficulty of reading his handwriting” after the 1994 assassination attempt.

Hussein Hammouda   A critic and professor of Arabic literature at Cairo University

Hammouda, who was a friend of the late novelist, said he had observed some mistakes in Mahfouz’s works and handed them over to another of Mahfouz’s former publishers, the Library of Egypt, at the author’s request. “However, they kept reprinting his work without reviewing it.”

“Most of the mistakes were typos,” Hammouda said. “It is difficult to confirm censorship omission. His latest writings, like ‘Dreams of the Convalescent Period’ and ‘Echoes of an Autobiography’, are full of mistakes because of the difficulty of reading his handwriting” after the 1994 assassination attempt.

Specialists Will Review Texts

Shoair, of Akhbar Al-Adab, said five volumes issued in Beirut and the first editions issued by the Library of Egypt were the most complete. “The editions of Mahfouz’s novels in the Golden Book series, which were published in the 1950s by the Rose Al-Yusuf magazine, were subjected to a horrific censorship attack,” he added.

El-Sabbagh, the novelist and translator, said he hopes that the new contract with Diwan stipulates that its editions of Mahfouz’s books will be based on their first editions.

He also called for “the involvement of critics, interested people and specialists in the literature of Naguib Mahfouz, to monitor the publishing house’s commitment to this provision, to confront manipulation of his work and to avoid any attempts to distort Egyptian literature in favour of religious or other ideas.”

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Al-Qarmalawi, the publishing director at Diwan, told Al-Fanar Media that a committee of specialists was being formed to review Mahfouz’s works, “to preserve his literary heritage.”

“We hope to present Mahfouz’s novels free of alterations by reviewing  the original manuscripts Mahfouz presented to his publishers, or the newspapers and magazines that published them. If that is not possible, we will approve the first editions he reviewed himself.”




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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام