Naguib Mahfouz

BARRY IVERSON for TIME

Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat are the larger-than-life former Presidents who usually define notions of modern Egypt, yet nobody more closely embodies the soul of the nation than Naguib Mahfouz. Active as an author and commentator until his death at age 94 in August, Mahfouz turned out 33 novels and dozens of short stories that depict ordinary Egyptians, from civil servants to prostitutes, all engaged in a quotidian yet heroic struggle against power and poverty.

In his best-known work, the epic Cairo Trilogy, published in 1956, Mahfouz chronicled three generations of a troubled family in...

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