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Mahfouz's posthumous 'dreams' cause stir.

Summary: Publisher denies claims Egypt Nobel laureate's last book is fake even as some critics question its authenticity

The cover of the recently published book "Dreams of Period of Recovery- The Last Dreams" carrying a photo of E Image Credit: The cover of an English edition of Mahfouz's "Dreams" published in 2007. Image Credit: Ramadan Al Sherbini, Correspondent

Cairo: Nine years after his death, Egypt's Nobel laureate Najib Mahfouz is at the heart of a fresh controversy triggered by the printing of a book touted by a publisher as the acclaimed writer's last work while some critics question its authenticity.

Earlier this month, the Egyptian publishing house Al Shurooq unveiled "Dreams of Period of Recovery - The Last Dreams", a book of concise vignettes, which the publisher said was based on previously unprinted "dreams" by Mahfouz.

At a ceremony launching the Arabic book this week, owner of Al Shurooq Ebrahim Al Muallem said that the "literary treasure" was found by Mahfouz's daughters in his private papers in May.

"They asked me to check if these dreams were not published before," Al Muallem said. In 2005, around 239 Mahfouzian "dreams", taking the form of uncannily terse tales, appeared in a book after they were serialised in the state-run Nisf Al Dunia magazine in the 1990s. The latest book features 297 more pieces, tackling humanitarian feelings and values of freedom and social justice.

Mahfouz, the only Arab writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, reportedly wrote them after he survived a 1994 a knife attack by an Islamist militant.

Al Muallem said after receiving the manuscripts from Mahfouz's daughters, he tasked a team of specialists to verify their authenticity.

"This phase of verification was followed by another based on presenting the manuscripts to those who were close friends of Mahfouz to give their own views... They all confirmed that these dreams are undoubtedly Mahfouzian creativity."

The publisher added that Mahfouz's secretary Sabri Mahmoud confirmed the latest pieces belonged to Mahfouz who "were satisfied with them and looked forward to have them published".

However, some critics have suggested the book is mediocre and even fake. One of them is Mohammad Zuhni. "I felt frustrated after reading these nightmares, which are unrelated to the creativity, that Mahfouz gave us in his previous 'dreams'," Zuhni said in a critique.

"During 12 years in Mahfouz's life, we read more than 200 dreams penned by him, only to be surprised that there were 300 previously unpublished dreams. If the first part of the dreams appeared over 12 years, why didn't Mahfouz publish the rest, although he was interested in keeping in touch with his readers?" he asked. "The latest dreams miss the magic, which no person other than Mahfouz could capture."

Other sceptics noticed that although the first part of the "dreams", published in Mahfouz's life, ended with a vignette numbered 239, the new collection opens with the "dream No 200".

"I don't know the cause of this discrepancy," Umm Kulthoum, one of Mahfouz's two daughters, said. "Yet, there is not a single dream in the new collection repeated from the first part," she said at the launch gala.

"It is impossible that we would harm the reputation of our father or our reputation by publishing a false work," she added. "'The Last Dreams' does not differ from the first part in terms of thoughts and philosophy of the Nobel laureate."

The publication of the contentious book coincided with Mahfouz's 104th birthday.

Mahfouz, who died in 2006 aged 94, is regarded as an innovator of Arabic fiction. During a career spanning around seven decades, he produced more than 40 novels and hundreds of short stories. Most of his works have turned into films and TV dramas.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Dec 19, 2015
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