Miramar - Naguib Mahfouz, نجيب محفوظ
This is above all a social novel, a cross section of how people lived and experienced their relationships to society in Alexandria in the 1960s; and a political novel, since everything in it is very much affected by the rearrangements of power that were taking place, and by questions of who's gaining, who's losing, how will people survive, or even improve their place in the new order. The guests at the Pension Miramar (an old radical and a young radical, an old aristocrat and a young aristocrat, all of whom have been washed away by the July Revolution; and a fifth guest who's apparently floating on top of the tides) reveal their thoughts as the events of a couple of weeks are told from four different perspectives. One thing so many people have in common in this book is a sense of aimlessness and futility, of lost opportunities and no future, and Mahfouz makes a good case for this being a pretty general condition of Alexandrian society then, not peculiar to these characters. They all spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the young country-bred maid Zohra, not just because she's beautiful, but also because she's dynamic. She, alone, knows what she wants and has the will to reach for it. The other two young men hate Sarhan El-Beheiry because it seems like he has it made in the revolutionary world, like he's headed right for success. Only we readers come to know that he doesn't feel successful at all, that he can't cope with the demands of his life, can't be satisfied with what he has and is too weak to achieve anything. The author's alter-ego, the old journalist Amer Wagdi, provides ruminative perspective on everything; at the beginning, it seemed like he too might sink into bitter brooding, but (besides being helped by religion) he is encouraged by observing Zohra's strong will and how she avoids letting any of the weaker characters drag her down with them. Thus, bad as the situation is, the novel can still end on a hopeful note.