Winning the Nobel Prize for literature (in 1988) certainly didn't hurt him any, and
now Naguib Mahfouz has become a house-hold name (for the literati, at least). When
one reads a Prize-winner, one expects substance and style, and Mahfouz, if his
translators are honest, certainly seems worthy of the Swedish honor. In "Adrift on the
Nile," nihilism is the word, as a group of like minded intellectuals gather nightly on a
houseboat moored on the famous river where they question anything that can be
questioned--"but no answers," they claim. "There are never any answers," as they call
into account any topic brought up. It is a "din in iniquity," for sure, as good Egyptian
kif (and a well-stoked pipe) help to bring out their curiousity cum intellect. That is,
until, toward the end of this short novel, the group takes a ride out into the desert
where a disaster happens. It's Jay Gatsby, final chapter, of course.
Mahfouz is compared to Proust, Camus, Salinger, and an introspective Hemingway,
and justifiably so. Hailed as the "widest-read Arab writer currently published in the
U.S.," Mahfouz has certainly wielded his own influence among international readers
since the '88 Prize; alas, it seems it took the impact of this award for his books to
achieve their circulation, but that doesn't diminish his themes, his philosophies, his
impact on both socially significant issues and modern literature.
"Adrift on the Nile" reads fast and it is short; yet it packs a punch that seems to score
to the very soul. The houseboat literally becomes a ship of fools, adrift on the
Sargasso Sea, headed into the Bermuda triangle. Existentialists will love this one.