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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A disturbing approach to the history of mankind
"Children of the Alley" (AKA "Children of Gabalawi") is both a realistic and an allegorical novel that consists of two stories simultaneously. On the year the book began to be published as a serial in Al-Ahram, it was banned for ten years, after which it was published for the first time in book format in Beirut. The story, as I mentioned, has two...
Published on 12 Jun 1999

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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An allegorical tale
This novel about a community in some desert village is written with the simplicity of language that one associates with old myths, and underlying the story are indeed echoes, sometimes close and sometimes rather distorted, of ancient myths. God is allegorized as Gabalawi, the remote and mostly unseen owner of the estate of which the Children of the Alley are supposed to...
Published on 28 Nov 2006 by Ralph Blumenau


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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A disturbing approach to the history of mankind, 12 Jun 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Children of the Alley (Doubleday Us) (Paperback)
"Children of the Alley" (AKA "Children of Gabalawi") is both a realistic and an allegorical novel that consists of two stories simultaneously. On the year the book began to be published as a serial in Al-Ahram, it was banned for ten years, after which it was published for the first time in book format in Beirut. The story, as I mentioned, has two faces. The first is that of an enormous family and its descendants. And the second is the religious history of mankind, with the prophets, the legends, and in the end, the scientific revolution. The background is the "Gabalawi Alley", which has a unique role, just like the "Midaq Alley", or the alley in "The Harafish". I can say without a doubt that Mahfouz is "Proust of the Arabs".
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful allegory of human suffering, 9 Mar 2007
By 
HORAK (Zug, Switzerland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Children of the Alley (Doubleday Us) (Paperback)
This is the story of the Gabalawi family. Gabalawi disowns his son Idris in favour of Adam and then puts the latter to the test. The children of the alley are all the people living in the Gabalawi Alley where Gabalawi is the ancestor who owns everything and everybody in the desert around it.

We meet Adham, Gabal, Rifan, Quassem and Arafa who each in their own way fight the injustice and the gangsters in the alley in order to free their fellow citizens from bondage and tyranny. But after each individual victory it inevitably turns out that the children of the alley fall back again into greed, corruption, crime and poverty while just a few enjoy wealth and power.

In this sense this is a powerful and daring narrative which teaches us a lot about the spiritual history of humankind. A powerful fable and a richly told story which embraces in its plot not only the world of the Middle East but the world itself.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Right up your alley (if your alley is named 'good literature'), 14 Aug 2012
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H. Tee (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Children of the Alley (Doubleday Us) (Paperback)
This is a recognised literary classic from the Egyptian author Mahfouz first published in Arabic in 1959. The novel went unnoticed until the author became a Nobel prize winner in 1988 when it attracted the attention of Islamic radicals for its content and much like Satanic Verses the author was condemned and Mahfouz ended up being knifed in 1994 (surviving). I'm not sure but I think the first English translation is by Stewart and the second (overcoming copyright issues?) is by Theroux. The title is also Children of Galabawi and included in the international list of top 100 works of world literature. At the outset I've got no idea why the content should be potentially so controversial but then again people can get sensitive over anything religious these days.

The basics of the story is that an early isolated community in Cairo (year unknown but certainly pre-electricity) is centred around the mansion of Gabalawi a patriarch figure (symbolic perhaps of God but not strictly since `God' is separately mentioned in the story). Gabalawi selects his youngest son (by another woman) Adham from the eldest Idris and 4 other brothers to run his estate. Cutting to the case Idris gets upset and is ejected and Adham falls from grace by trying to look at a secret book and is himself ejected - they end living (& fighting)side by side - instantly you can see the analogy of Adam and Satan. In the suburbs in which they live are the rival gangsters and their bosses who perpetually bully the locals. Adham becomes a goat herd, marries etc but eventually tries to sort out the separate 4 or 5 rival gangs; it ends with his demise but the setting up of `new' community of followers in the alley. Now the next series of relatives, next generation with the leader Gabal in essence (now clearly this is a sweeping generality and I think I gathered this all by myself even though I know little about any of them) reflect the Jewish faith (i.e. Moses); then Rifaa (Christian); Qassem (Islamic) and finally Arafa (science). I believe the book was originally serialised and it's clear that each chapter is really a clever, erudite, deep, symbolic novella - I'm sure a lot of the allusions to people and events in each story went over my head but nonetheless each is pretty enjoyable. The one strange unexplained perpetual is that Gabalawi lives on (in the background not as a participant) in each tale.

I did find that the three middle chapters in many ways became repetitive (rivalry between 5 gang leaders, fights, self interest, winner, new leader which different philosophy) but still interesting and lots of characters. I wouldn't say the writing style is particularly special - linear narrative which, if you wanted to overthink, quite existential (especially when science finally meets god). I'd say the book is a cross between `Christ Recrucified' by Kazantzakis and `East, West' by Rushdie. I suspect it's no coincidence that not being religious myself, the Arafa chapter was my favourite.

Some quotes:

"What I buried was neither a living thing nor a lifeless object, but something I made with my own hands"

"If the punishment you get isn't as horrible as the thing you've done, I hope the world drops into Hell!"

I'll give it 4 stars for being the first, and excellent, originally Arabic book I've read and I'll probably look to read another of Mahfouz's novels (he wrote about 30)
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An allegorical tale, 28 Nov 2006
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Children of the Alley (Doubleday Us) (Paperback)
This novel about a community in some desert village is written with the simplicity of language that one associates with old myths, and underlying the story are indeed echoes, sometimes close and sometimes rather distorted, of ancient myths. God is allegorized as Gabalawi, the remote and mostly unseen owner of the estate of which the Children of the Alley are supposed to be his heirs. The central character in each of the five stories is up against the selfish and oppressive overseers who dominate the estate and its inhabitants with the help of their retinue of gangsters. The first of the stories evokes that of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the story of Cain and Abel; the second that of Moses and Pharaoh; the third that of Jesus; the fourth that of Muhammad.

Then there is a fifth story, in which the central figure, a `magician', is presumably a scientist. He tries to discover the secret of Gabalawi He fails to find it, but in the process he is instrumental in the death of Gabalawi `who had been easier to kill than to see'. It makes no difference: the scientist, who has invented a weapon of great destructive power, is forced to put it at the service of the new overseer, and the Children of the Alley remain as oppressed as ever, though they remain hopeful that one day `magic' will put an end to their suffering.

Subtle the book is not, either in content or in style; and in my view is far too long and far too repetitive. The overseers and the gangsters in each generation have different names, but as individuals they are indistinguishable one from another. A large number of the characters are perpetually angry or violent. They mostly `shout', `scream', `shriek', `yell', `cry' or `sneer', which becomes rather tiresome.

The literary quality of this novel is, I think, greatly inferior to Mahfouz's rightly famous Cairo Trilogy which has contributed to his having become the only Arab to have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. But it is a courageous book for an Egyptian to have written: it has been banned in Egypt; its allegories enraged the Islamicists and led to an attempt on the author's life.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A famous scandal, 20 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Children of the Alley (Doubleday Us) (Paperback)
Unlike many of Mahfouz's novels, this is an allegory which tells basically the same story six or seven times.It created a religious and social scandal when published. It centres on a poor part of a city under the authority of a god-like figure and controlled by power-hungry overseers and what this translation calls "gangsters". A series of hero figures-they are barely differentiated-try to bring reform and freedom to the quarter but all fail. The god-figure is heard but not seen. It is a pessimistic view of society and its capacity for change though its picture of the quarter lacks the enlivening detail and specificity of the other novels.The translation seems particularly ham-fisted.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Bible transposed into Egypt, 17 Aug 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Children of the Alley (Doubleday Us) (Paperback)
Good and Evil in Egypt. God as the stern character of the old testament. Jesus the saviour. Moses the deliverer. God wins, but nearly destoys humanity to achieve his goal. Somewhat overdone and repetitive. But from a great storyteller.
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Biblical Alagory in the Words of a Fine Story Teller, 17 July 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Children of the Alley (Doubleday Us) (Paperback)
Quite Simply, The Ultimate book for the theologian who needs a change of pace. A change of setting and some interesting plot elements not found in the Bible
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3 of 55 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars This book is not only a waste of your time but it's harmful, 29 Jun 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Children of the Alley (Doubleday Us) (Paperback)
An auther who writes such a book and describes God (AllAH) the greatest and his wonderful prophets with these very bad descriptions in a symbolic way, which are used only to describe criminal people, is not worth even to be considered. I think Amazon.com should remove such a book from it's book lists.
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Children of the Alley (Doubleday Us)
Children of the Alley (Doubleday Us) by Naguib Mahfouz (Paperback - 1 Nov 1997)
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