Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Naguib Mahfouz-نجيب محفوظ-"The Norwegian Rat"

"The Norwegian Rat" by Naguib Mahfouz (1962, 5 pages)

A Short Story by Nobel Prize Winner
from Egypt

Naguib Mahfouz (1911 to 2006-Cairo, Egypt) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.    He is so far the only Egyptian to have won this award.   He produced a number of novels, essays, and short stories.    He was primarily a historical novelist using as his theme the full history of Egypt.   While maintaining a strict adherence to the tenants of his Muslim faith,  his work was considered a criticism of the corruption in the government and society of contemporary Egypt.    (You can read more about his life, work, and influence HERE)

"The Norwegian Rat"   reads like a story that could have been written by George Orwell.      The only real characters in the story (it is not a character development story) are a husband and wife living in a big city.    We are not told where they live and the story could be set in any big city world.   In his The Lonely Voice-A Study in the Short Story, Frank O'Connor says that when he taught creative writing he would tell his students that a good short story could be set anywhere.   

As the story opens the citizens of the city are being advised that the government fears there will be an invasion of Norwegian rats.   The citizens are advised of the precautions they must take.    Soon there are food shortages in the city and even though no Norwegian rats have been seen the citizens are told that the rats are the  cause.   Soon the citizens are told they must be even stricter in their fight against the rats and they must pay more taxes to fight the never seen rats.   All of the problems of the government are laid on the rats.    Soon a government inspector shows up at the couple's house to inspect it for possible rat infestation.   The inspector tells them it is nothing against them personally, all houses are being inspected.  

The couple were having lunch when the inspector showed up (spoiler alert) and they knew they should offer the inspector lunch.    The inspector sits down and begins to eat and eat.    The couple see him as looking just like a rat as he begins to consume all the food in their house.   

"Norwegian Rat" is almost more a political parable than a short story.    After a page or two you can pretty much see the end coming.   It was fun and well organized and made its point.    It was published in an at times harshly oppressive venue in which no dissent was allowed so Manfouz had to use parables and stories to make his point.  

You can read "Norwegian Rat" HERE

Mel u


As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

I don't think I knew that Mahfouz wrote short stories. I read one of his novels in college (now OP in English, sadly) and I really loved it.

I picked up Miss Welty's short story collection, A Curtain of Green, a few days ago to re-read and I thought of you.

Suko said...

You have changed your blog header. I like it, but someone is missing!

I have Palace Walk by this author which I've yet to read. The writing is beautiful, and I will read it one day.

Anonymous said...

But what exactly is the meaning behind the inspector? Does he represent a certain thing? Especially that he left their house after eating all that food and looking like a rat, "in fact the norwegian rat itself." As he said in the story.