He would not ask for repentance, since he secretly feared his prayer might be granted and he would be turned into an ascetic with no taste for the pleasures of life he loved and without which he thought life would be meaningless.His wife, Zaynab, used to greater liberties in her father's household finds that already after a month "her character had been infected with the virus of submission"so prevalent in the Jawad household, but she won't put up with absolutely everything.Yasin's behaviour becomes intolerable and the marriage collapses (despite her becoming pregnant). Aisha and then Khadija are also married, but they move away -- becoming peripheral to the story for the time being. Kamal, in particular, is disturbed by the change marriage brings with it: even though he can still visit his sisters, they seem entirely different, and the household -- now with only the three sons living at home -- becomes a different sort of place as well.Al-Sayyid Ahmad has great difficulty in dealing with the world at large, especially with regards to his family. He wants to be in complete control, and in his house he is assured of that, as everyone does exactly as he demands (and lives in great fear of him, while also loving and respecting him). To him fathering girls is "an evil against which we are defenseless"; he loves his daughters, but fears having to hand them over to others (as he has to when they marry), when he will no longer be able to protect them -- and control every aspect of their lives. His boys, too, can't escape his overprotective and hidebound ways:
His children were meant to be a breed apart, outside the framework of history. he alone would set their course for them, not the revolution, the times, or the rest of humanity. The revolution and everything it accomplished were no doubt beneficial, so long as they remained far removed from his household.Yasin is just a libertine (in his father's mould), and Kamal is still too young to get into real trouble, but Fahmy becomes politically active. Revolutionary fervour grips him: he finds himself "motivated by the most sublime and most hideous emotions: patriotism and a desire to kill and devastate". Eventually, "he reached far-flung horizons of lofty sentiment" (yes, there are translation-issues here ...), swept up in the excitement of the turbulent times and playing an ever-larger role in it. The foreigners -- the unruly Australians, as well as the English colonialists -- are always a presence. Eventually the English are literally at the door of the Jawad household, setting up camp to control the demonstrations that break out all over Cairo. Kamal becomes friendly with the soldiers, but the others fear them and are more ambivalent. Politics, in which even Amina is interested, is complicated, many facts unknown. The relationship with the English is complicated, as for example:
Yasin probably detested the English as all Egyptians did, but deep inside he respected and venerated them so much that he frequently imagined that they were made from a different stuff than the rest of mankind.Yasin is overwhelmed when an Englishman actually speaks to him -- and thanks him (for some matches). Later, this brief meeting will put him in considerable danger.The book closes with what seems the promise of success for the revolution and a peaceful transition to Egyptian independence, but it is not to be, at least for the Jawad family.Palace Walk is very much a family portrait. A few other figures play significant roles -- the girl next door, some of al-Sayyid Ahmad's close friends, the women father and son enjoy themselves with -- but the focus is very much on the Jawad household, and the house on Palace Walk (so much so that when the daughters move out they too become of secondary significance). Each family member is well-developed, and each serves a purpose -- Kamal, who sees things through a child's eyes, playboy Yasin, political Fahmy, beautiful Aisha, serious Khadija. There are small and big family crises, with the firm hand of the pater familias dominating all -- and yet the threat of a changing world is constantly at the door. Al-Sayyid Ahmad is a completely dominating father-figure, but he is also loved and respected. The children want to be in his favour, and their transgressions cause them considerable pain, mainly because they don't want to disappoint their father. The odd family dynamics are disturbing, but fairly well-presented by Mahfouz, the figures only slightly too simply drawn (it's hard to imagine that all would be so entirely uncritically subservient to the old man). Mahfouz allows the story to unfold very slowly. In 71 short chapters he moves from person to person, incident to incident. From concerns about marriage and honour to the true dangers of the uprisings, there are a variety of occurrences: a great deal does happen. Some things are missing -- there's almost no sense of how the daughters manage the transition to married life -- but Mahfouz offers a broad, impressive canvas. It makes for a good, if only introductory, picture of a society in the midst of wrenching change.Palace Walk isn't a fast-paced, action-packed novel, but it is a rich, rewarding, and always entertaining read.