Mahfouz tells us another sad tale of a poor family in Cairo. The Kamel Ali family is in difficult straits. The father has died, leaving a widow, three sons and a daughter. He has left a small pension but it is barely enough for them to survive. As might be expected, their dreams are not only ended but they have to make major sacrifices. Nafisah first becomes a seamstress and then a prostitute. Hasan, the eldest son, becomes a night-club bouncer and a drug dealer. The other sons do not fare much better, Husayn having to abandon hopes of a higher education to become a clerk, while the youngest son, Hasanayn, initially successful, becoming an army officer, is rejected in marriage and faces the shame of his family - his brother a criminal and his sister a whore. It is too much for him and it all ends tragically. Is it the inherent poverty or is it more than that - the character defects that the four have - that brings about their downfall? Mahfouz leaves it very much open.
First published in 1949 by Maktabat Misr
First English translation in 1985 by American University in Cairo Press