Was style lost in translation? The writing is stiff and lifeless, quite academic, perhaps a faithful translation of the writing, but a failure in capturing any vitality. Alas, I do not read Arabic, so I do not know if the original is more compelling--after all, Mahfouz did win the Nobel prize for literature!
By happenstance, I found myself reading this book even as the Russian-Georgian conflict of most recent memory was being played out. The book provides some background into that conflict and, for this and many other reasons, I found it interesting. It is well written. It's a good story which also provides perspective on a way of life very different from the lives of many of us. I recommend it.
In Palace Walk (the name refers to a major street in the old part of Cairo), Mahfouz details the process of modernization in Egypt from the ground up through the story of a single Cairene family, the 'Abd al-Jawads, in the course of a single year, 1919. 1988 Nobel prize winner translated from Arabic.