"Wedding Song" is a short novel published in 1981 by renowned Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz. It is one of his shorter novels, in total just 176 pages, and "Wedding Song" is included in a collected volume of the author's shorter novels and novellas. Mahfouz is well known and beloved for the light he shone on Middle Eastern life in the 20th century. "Wedding Song" follows this tradition, as it offers an extended glimpse into the lives of a working class, artistic community in the more downtrodden neighborhoods of Cairo.
Setting and Structure
"Wedding Song" takes place in Cairo, Egypt, during contemporary times as they were in the 1980s. The novel is set in and around a theater troupe, who are rehearsing a play based on a series of dramas and tragedies that occurred among themselves years earlier. "Wedding Song" is a novel in four parts, each part a single chapter. Each chapter features one of the main characters telling the same story from their own perspective and in their own voice, filling in greater detail and context for the events.
The story of "Wedding Song" concerns the marriage and ultimate downfall of the theater troupe's promoter, Karam, and cashier, Halima, and their family. The past is stirred up when the troop is in rehersals for a play that Karam and Halima's son Abbas has written based on these tragic events. Although the couple unites and begins their lives well enough, money trouble pushes them to welcome gambling and drugs into their home for extra cash. They are eventually arrested and sent to prison. Abbas marries Tahiya, a girl from the troupe, which sends the actor Tariq into a fit of jealous rage. Abbas and Tahiya are unable to rise from poverty, and Tahiya and their infant son become ill and die. This past is told to us through the eyes of Tariq, Halima, Karam, and finally Abbas himself.
The literary device of the "unreliable narrator" is at work in "Wedding Song." The four chapters deliver readers the same story from a different point of view. Glaring and inherent contradictions in their respective retellings leave a reader unsure which of these characters, if anyone, can be trusted to impart the story accurately. The passage of time and how time can transform people is a central theme in "Wedding Song". Guilt, shame, regret and the struggle to weave tragic losses into a life that carries on are issues all of the characters are dealing with, and each presents a different philosophy on the meaning of life and death in contemporary Egypt.
About the Author
Naguib Mahfouz wrote novels, short stories and screenplays about Egypt and the Middle East from World War I to the 21st century. Mahfouz was the first Arabic writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988. Mahfouz was profoundly influenced by Western novelists including Flaubert, Dostoevsky and Proust. His three-part, multigenerational story "The Cairo Trilogy" first caught the attention of the international literary world in the mid-1950s. As he continued to write, Mahfouz presented views that were critical of British colonial rule, the Egyptian monarchy and politics in contemporary Egypt. Naguib Mahfouz passed away in 2006.
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