Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Mahfouz and Updike

I was reading the wonderful story Pigeon Feathers by John Updike this morning and the thought occurred to me that young David Kern's (the protagonist of the story) situation was not that different than the young Kamal in Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy, especially in the second volume, Palace of Desire. Not surprisingly, both texts were written within in a decade of each other (Mahfouz in the early fifties and Updike at the beginning of the sixties - of the last century) and each have, in part, the theme of how a young man thinks about faith and issues of spirituality. In Updike there is a bit more emphasis on death, but the issue of faith and the loss, or moving beyond, it is central for both young men. In each the boys are well versed in their faith. Kamal has memorized much of the Qu'ran and David is attending bible lessons in Sunday School. But the knowledge of their respective beliefs seems in each to inspire a spiritual rebellion. One that is not asked for, but comes none the less. In David's case his very questions of his pastor seem to be irreverent, at least in his imagination. While we see Kamal battling within his own mind, his inner dialogues questioning the nature of the world and spirit. It is striking that in this century in cultures separated by thousands of miles, one in the heart of the United States and the other in northeastern Africa, that these two young men are portrayed as facing similar spiritual issues and each in his own way moves in the opposite direction. David, in his experience with the barn pigeons, sees his faith in the eternal strengthened while Kamal moves toward a study of philosophy that seems to lead to a rejection of his faith.

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