Matar on Mahfouz

Hisham Matar, whose debut novel In The Country of Men, was recently longlisted for the Booker Prize, has a little vignette at the Guardian about a visit to Naguib Mahfouz in Cairo two years ago. An interesting excerpt:

I asked a question that immediately exposed me. I shouted in his ear: “How do you see writers such as myself, Arabs who write in English?” He said nothing and continued to look straight ahead. Feeling awkward in the silence I pressed on. “Do we belong to Arabic literature, or the literature of the language in which we write?” Words like “we”, “belong”, suddenly seemed weightless.

“A writer serves the language he writes in,” Mahfouz said unequivocally.

A few of the gathered nodded in agreement.

I felt annoyed at myself, at my naked soliciting of an embrace.

I have a forthcoming essay about this very question. More soon.