Sugar Street is the third book in Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy and in many ways the weakest. Although it spends some time with Kamal, it goes on to the next generation and deals mostly with Kamal’s nephews.
The patriarch of the family, Ahmad Abdal-Jawad, although only in his early 60’s in 1935, has let his intemperate habits get the best of him and becomes more and more decrepit as the book goes on. We don’t see much of him or his wife, Amina.
Kamal has come to believe in nothing. He is an English teacher who writes difficult philosophical articles for a journal for no pay. His family urges him to marry, but he does not. He is not happy except in a few friendships with men he can exchange ideas with.
Aisha is a faded shadow of herself after the death of her husband and sons, so it is Khadiya’s and Yasin’s sons we follow for most of the novel as they get involved in politics. Abdal-Muni’m becomes a Muslim Nationalist, Ahmad a socialist, and Ridwan becomes involved with an important political sheikh in a way that seemed vaguely homosexual to me but perhaps wasn’t.
In any case, although you might think these different political alliances would provide more insight into the state of the country, the strangely formal and didactic conversations I mentioned in a review of the previous book assume too much knowledge for me and throw too many names around. On the other hand, what was missing from this novel were the intimate family relationships and strong individual characterizations. We never really get to know any of these nephews like we did the original brothers and sisters.
Finally, Kamal’s character is so mired in inaction that he brings every scene to a halt with his inner observations. When he finally sees the little sister of his boyhood love, Aïda, and fancies himself in love with her, first he creepily stalks her and then, finally, having won her attention, he backs off. Oh! I thought at first, something is going to happen! Not!