The Thief and the Dogs by Naguib Mahfouz is a novella I picked up at a local bookstore not long ago. I enjoy reading various genres, and though I focus on romance as both a reader and a writer, I often find other fiction to be more emotional. Though that may not exactly be the case with this book, it was certainly impactful to say the least.
The author, Naguib Mahfouz, was an Egyptian who passed away back in 2006. The winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature, Mahfouz was Muslim, his religion playing a role in this book. Born in 1911, he lived through incredible changes in his country, and he had a lot to say about them. As a writer, he is said to have believed strongly in the freedom of expression and therefore defended Salman Rushdie when a fatwa was issued to take his life. That got Mahfouz himself on the naughty list, and consequently, he was stabbed by a Muslim extremist. He survived the attack but wasn’t the same.
Having read the biographical highlights of Mahfouz’ life, I was intrigued to read The Thief and the Dogs. While the book does reference a post-revolutionary Egypt and its effect on the main character, Said Mahran, I don’t see the politics as being at the heart of the story.
Said is a thief. His mindset, influenced by the politics of the day, is that he is justified in stealing from the rich. He deserves it. He’s owed. As the rich are a part of the corrupt establishment, they deserve to be robbed.
But that is really the extent of the politics. What the book is really about is betrayal, revenge and morality.
Said is betrayed by those closest to him and ends up in prison as a result. Upon his release, he’s hell-bent on making everyone pay. In the process, he keeps messing up, and things don’t go as planned. Meanwhile, an old sheikh nonchalantly helps by providing shelter, but his vague utterances, attempts at advice, go in one ear and right out the other.
Will Said ever figure out that his criminal ways are not the moral route? Will he let the sheikh’s words of wisdom sink in?
This novella is a page-turner and one that will dig into your psyche. Despite moving onto another book immediately afterwards, I couldn’t shake this one for days. It’s disturbing, and its simplicity is really quite complex.
D.M. Miller is the author of Half-Jew: Searching for Identity, the interfaith “Heart” series, and the poetry collection, Dandelion Fuzz. The product of an interfaith marriage herself, Miller’s work explores the difficult themes of religion, politics, ethnicity, culture, family, ancestry and love. See her books on Amazon.