Number 29 is unique in that it concludes with the author’s reflection upon his situation at the end of the dream: “Overwhelmed with the feeling that I had lost my friends, I feared that instances like this robbery were waiting out there to ambush me, wherever I go.”
More than perhaps any other themes, robbery and ambush reappear in the book repeatedly. In Dream 44, for example, Mahfouz is robbed then interviewed for a job by the same man. In Dream 167, he is robbed of credit for a screenplay he has written by the managing director “for the sake of the film’s box office success.” In the sarcastic Dream 87, the perpetrator of a beastly murder is recommended entrance in the “Institute for Contemporary Criminality — and may God grant him success!”
Sometimes, Mahfouz is himself the criminal. In Dream 89, he is confronted at a garden party by a vexed former lover whose entry in a fiction competition had been disqualified because its plot too closely resembled a story that Mahfouz — his nation’s eminent writer — had published several decades before. In truth, the story belongs to them both, as it deals with his shabby behavior during their relationship. “Here’s a chance for me to be your victim in real life — and not just in fiction,” the woman spits. Perhaps at the end of his career, a writer repents for the stories he has prevented other people from telling.
How you choose to approach The Dreams — as poetry? as political allegory? as autobiography? — will certainly alter your interpretation of it. Nevertheless, the book is a complex and transcendent piece of art, and a recommended read. The Nobel website defends its 1988 prize to Naguib Mahfouz for his invention of an “Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind.” That compliment may never be so true as in his simple telling of his dreams.