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This review is from: Maze of Justice: Diary of a Country Prosecutor- An Egyptian Novel (Paperback)
This novel, published in 1937, was written in the form of a diary covering 12 days in the life of an overworked prosecutor employed by the government in the Egyptian countryside. It was based partly on the firsthand experience of al-Hakim (1898-1987), a Westernized liberal intellectual who's best-known as the father of the modern Arab theater.
During the course of the novel, the prosecutor investigated but failed to solve various crimes in one village: a murder by shooting, a murder by poisoning, and a murder by strangling. Meanwhile, he mused on the many obstacles he faced---a ridiculous caseload, departmental checklists governing procedure that ignored the chaotic reality of his job, the ignorance and dissimulation of the peasants, who lived like cattle, a legal system imported from abroad that protected creditors and the government rather than the people, and the lack of dedication of the civil servants around him, who were interested mainly in protecting their jobs with each shift of the political wind. ("Fancy me the Refuge of Justice! Where was Justice! I don't know it and have never set eyes on it, since nobody has shown it to me . . . . 'justice' and 'the people' are words whose significance is still unknown in this country. They are just phrases whose only purpose is to be written on paper and delivered in orations . . . ."). The social criticism wasn't directed only at the village, because "the village is, after all, the state in miniature."
Most of all I enjoyed several of the humorous set-pieces in the novel, such as the description of a trial, the questioning of a dying suspect, and the search for a body in the cemetery, for the blackness of their humor. Some of the scenes in the novel recalled Gogol's descriptions of ignorance and futility in the 19th-century Russian countryside, though without, in my opinion, matching Gogol's vivid characters, colorful narration or blend of reality and fantasy. One scene recalled a short story by Chekhov about a peasant put on trial for stealing nails from a railway line.
Remarkably, this English translation was produced in the 1940s by the Israeli diplomat and politician Abba Eban.