This proved to be a wise choice as the first book, Palace Walk, sets the stage for the other two by introducing the major players, setting the stage for the unrest in Egypt and in Cairo itself, under the power of British rule early in the 20th century. The contrast between religious and less observant Muslims becomes obvious and begins to set both family and societal stories in motion. So much happens here to several families, to the city of Cairo and the country of Egypt, to hints of the world at large. The past is never really gone and this trilogy shows the truth of this maxim for Cairo...
Part of this relationship is observed by his youngest son, if I remember correctly.
His wife and children use different strategies to wriggle out from beneath the iron fist of their husband and father, not all of them in good ways. They find their own ways to cope with the political, cultural and religious upheaval. I am somewhat at a loss to know how to review this work, as I think that to really understand it, you need to know something about Egyptian history and Islamic culture. The best career for men is one in politics or law, while the best thing for women to do is to get married.
The novel traces three generations of an Egyptian family, coping with its ups and downs, while the country was grappling with political uncertainty. Palace Walk The first of the three books is set around the time of the first Egyptian revolution of 1919. In the middle is a rich exposition of Egyptian culture of the time. Simmering beneath is the growing political discontent and a national desire to cast off the yoke of British domination, just waiting to disrupt their lives and change their family irrevocably. Amina, his second wife, is totally subservient, yet she has an inner strength which makes her the pillar of the family, rather than her husband. Fahmy, his middle son, is intellectual and perhaps the most alienated in the family. The most obvious is the tyrannical Al-Sayyid iron-fisted rule over his family. His children long for control over their own lives and destinies, but they cower in deference to Al-Sayyids will. This middle book of the trilogy focuses on development of the characters and relationships.
The central figure spanning all three volumes is the imposing patriarch, Ahmad Abd al-Jawad. Palace Walk, volume 1 of the trilogy, shifts gears from a family saga to a historical drama when Mahfouz begins to highlight the forces and events surrounding the Egyptian revolution against the British occupation. The oldest son, Yasin, is from Ahmad's first marriage, and he portrays the second generation figure whose misguidance perpetuates the same sins of debauchery as his father. In volume 2, Palace of Desire, the saga of the al-Jawad family recommences in 1924 with the British reaching a rapprochement with the widely popular Wafd leader, Sa'd Zaghlul. The children of both these couples are in their infancy as this novel proceeds, but the most compelling figure in volume 2 is Kamal, the youngest sibling of al-Sayyid Ahmad and Amina. As a free thinker catapulted into the field of modern science's quest for meaning and understanding, Kamal falls victim to despondency after he suffers from the agony of unrequited love. Palace of Desire focuses on Kamal's plight as the central figure of the second generation. When the second book ends with the passing of the leader Sa'd, one sees the parallel between the painful end of an era and the pain Kamal feels with his own lofty hopes for love shattering around him. This generation is most aptly depicted through the two polarizing figures of Abd al-Muni'm and Ahmad, the two headstrong sons of Khadija and Ibrahim. With a host of other family characters, friends, and acquaintances to supplement the differences of the brothers' philosophies, Mahfouz ultimately brings this grand trilogy to a summation during the government's mass crackdown on political activists on each side of the divide. In its totality, Mahfouz uses the three novels of The Cairo Trilogy to chart Egypt's tumultuous history through the meditations of various family members with distinctively different perceptions on life. For example, the patriarch al-Sayyid Ahmad is unyielding in his authority over his family at the beginning of volume 1. To gain the full effect of this fascinating generational dichotomy, it requires an understanding of Ahmad the grandfather from volume 1.