First published in Arabic in 1983, this brief but powerful parable by Naguib Mahfouz is set in a mythical, timeless Middle East.
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The American University in Cairo Press, 2004
Novel - Arabic Fiction - Egypt
It is presented as the journal of a wanderer known as Ibn Fattouma, whose boyhood tutor had extolled the virtues of travel as a way of finding the true meaning of life. He joins a caravan and sets out to explore the world, his ultimate destination the enigmatic land of Gebel. Raised in an Islamic society, Ibn Fattouma finds to his surprise that many of the countries he visits, though heathen, are in some ways superior to his own. His first stop results in marriage to a non-believer, and children. However, war with another country and a clash with a city official cause him to lose his family, and he is forced to leave. In another country he is imprisoned for twenty years, accused of crimes against the state. Civil war frees him, and he moves on again, always seeking an intangible he is never able to find, always vulnerable to the winds of social and political change. Finally, he joins a caravan bound for Gebel - a country so distant and mysterious that no one has ever been known to reach it and return to tell the tale.