The Quarter is a collection of 18 stories. These stories were written by one of the Arab world’s foremost storytellers – Naguib Mahfouz. All 18 stories belong to a recently discovered cache of previously unknown stories found years after his death and labelled “To be published in 1994”. They are microfiction of some sort. Each story is very short, some as short as 2 pages and the longest no more than 4 pages. No one is sure if they were works in progress or completed in their current form. However, some things are set in this collection; all the stories are set in the quarter – a common living area in Cairo, its sparse infrastructure consists of a mosque, a fountain and a cellar (that seems to be a place where residents who enter it end u having encounters with the unseen and unknown and end up having their perspectives changed). The quarter is a place with its people in flux; either residents going, returning or just passing through. In all of these, two residents are constant and remain rallying points for the people – shaykh-al-hara, the administrative head of the quarter and the imam, the religious figure who supervises the mosque and serves as a regular counsellor to the former. Both find themselves constantly at the centre of all the actions that are provoked by the quarter’s inhabitants. It is through these two characters that an attempt is made to make sense of the mundane but important happenings of these ordinary Cairo residents.

The Quarter is short and crisp but the collection feels bare and incomplete as one is unsure if the reason why it was not published by the author is due to its incomplete nature. If this was written by a less celebrated writer, I doubt it would have been accepted for publication in its current form.

2.7/5The Quarters 1

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