I can’t throw away books.
I’ve put them in the rubbish bin in the evening, only to rescue them just before the refuse collector turns up in the morning.
Some books I’ve saved this way many times over.
One book in particular holds the record.
It’s a paperback version of Autumn Quail by Naguib Mahfouz, which I bought when I was working in Cairo.
I want to throw it away because it’s falling apart, but I can’t throw it away since I have yet to replace it. And so I read it gently, laying out one detached page at a time like a sacred text, of which there is only one copy.
Autumn Quail is a small masterpiece. It chronicles the fall from grace of Isa, a high-ranking bureaucrat, with immense social and political ambitions, who becomes collateral damage when the 1952 Egyptian revolution erupts.
His life will undergo changes that will take him far from his comfort zone.
He will see the world that he believed in, and which gave him power and influence, crumble around him.
And once he gets over the shock, he will rediscover his country, its people, and, above all, himself.
His is a rapid descent down the Cairo social ladder, which brings him to Alexandria and to an existence that is light years away from the one he had in Cairo.
And through this fall he will lose much, but he will learn more.
Mahfouz is a master at describing a man that loses status and possessions but rediscovers life in the process.
Time, that muse that had always eluded him in his climb to the top now gives herself freely to him.
And Isa begins to appreciate those things that he’d been all too ready to see fly past him before.
His senses begin to take over.
He begins to see, to hear, to smell, to taste, and to feel again.
And this will take him to a place he would never have dreamed.
A place where there is no right or wrong, where people forgive the sins of the past and run towards a future unburdened by revenge.