Sunday, December 17, 2023

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on Naguib Mahfouz’s novels of ancient Egypt

D.W. Buffa's new novel is Lunatic Carnival, the tenth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. He has also published a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, most recently, America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Buffa writes a monthly review for the Campaign for the American Reader that we're calling "Third Reading." Buffa explains. "I was reading something and realized that it was probably the third time that I knew it well enough to write something about it. The first is when I read it when I was in college or in my twenties, the second, however many years later, when I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the third when I knew I was going to have to write about it."

Buffa's "Third Reading" of Naguib Mahfouz’s novels of ancient Egypt begins:
In the introduction to his universal history, Diodorus Siculus remarks that “it is an excellent thing…when we confront the varied vicissitudes of life…to be able to imitate the successes which have been achieved in the past.” Khufu’s Wisdom, the first novel in Naguib Mahfouz’s trilogy about ancient Egypt, was first published under the title, Vicissitudes of Fate. Diodorus Siculus, who spent the middle years of the first century B.C. working on his history, visited Egypt and reports that 360,000 men spent twenty years building the Great Pyramid. Mahfouz’s novel begins ten years after the work has started.

Watching tens of thousands of men digging out the base for his pyramid, which he “wanted to make his eternal abode,” the pharaoh, Khufu, asks his architect, Mirabu, why all these men, these tens of thousands, “obey me and withstand the terrors of this arduous work?” Mirabu explains that half of them are slaves and have no choice, but that the others are “Egyptians who believe in their hearts that the hard labor to which they devote their lives is a splendid religious obligation, a duty to the deity to whom they pray, and a form of obedience owed to the title of him who rules on the throne.” Khufu accepts this as a matter of course. It cannot be otherwise, for “what is Egypt but a great work that would not have been undertaken if not for the sacrifice of individuals; and of what value is the life of an individual? It equals not a single dry tear to one who looks to the far future and the grand plan.”

Pharaoh’s grand plan, his vision of the far future, is threatened when a mystic informs him that no one from his “seed shall sit upon the throne of Egypt.” Asked if he knows “whom the gods have reserved to succeed” him, the wizard announces that it is “an infant born that very morning.” When Khufu learns that the wife of Monra, the High Priest of Ra, has given birth to a boy that morning, and that Monra has said that the boy would “rule over the valley of the Nile as the successor to the God Ra-Atum on earth,” he leads a hundred war chariots to end this threat to his dynasty. Learning of the danger, Monra sends his wife and child away. His wife’s handmaiden...[read on]
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

Third Reading: Jorge Luis Borges.

Third Reading: History of the Peloponnesian War.

Third Reading: Mansfield Park.

Third Reading: To Each His Own.

Third Reading: A Passage To India.

Third Reading: Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Third Reading: The Letters of T.E. Lawrence.

Third Reading: All The King’s Men.

Third Reading: The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus.

Third Reading: Naguib Mahfouz’s novels of ancient Egypt.

--Marshal Zeringue