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A keen sense of life's futility and meaninglessness gnaws at Anis Zani, a pot-smoking civil servant in Cairo and the cultured but dazed protagonist of Mahfouz's probing novel of spiritual emptiness, first published in 1966. Anis, an addict who can scarcely keep his job, shares a houseboat on the Nile--and a water pipe full of hemp--with other bored, disaffected Cairenes, among them an opportunistic art critic, a womanizing actor, a woman who has deserted her husband, a laid-back writer and a cynical lawyer. A spirited female journalist joins them and critiques their nihilism in her notebook, which Anis steals--an absurd act without a clear motive. In drug-induced hallucinations he encounters pharaohs, Napoleon, Nero, and his wife, who died 20 years earlier, as did their small daughter. The houseboat revelers take a midnight automotive joyride, which turns to tragedy with a hit-and-run accident; guilt over their collective vow of silence tears the group apart. Nobel laureate Mahfouz ( The Cairo Trilogy ) writes hypnotic prose, by turns romantically lyrical and tartly astringent, spiced with ironical allusions to ancient Egypt and classical history, whose grandeur highlights by contrast the rootlessness of modern Egypt's secularized, cosmopolitan middle class.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
In Nobel Prize winner Mahfouz's newly translated work, a houseboat on the Nile is a nightly diversion for a small circle of friends. Careers in the arts, business, law, and civil service are forgotten as the waterpipe makes its rounds, the intoxicating kif erasing all sense of responsibility. Anis, the "master of ceremonies," tends the pipe and drifts in his narcotic dreams while the others extol the absurdity of addiction. Their tranquility ends, however, when Samara, a young journalist, comes to study the group. She is the grain of seriousness that irritates them in their escapist shell, and around her swirls a nightly dispute over purpose, duty, love, and morality. A car accident crystallizes the argument, shattering the group as each confronts inescapable responsibility. The houseboat is a consistent metaphor in Mahfouz's writing, the vessel of escape in a complex and changing society. Adrift on the Nile skillfully dissects this metaphor but sacrifices the rich narrative and vibrant life that mark his other works.
- Paul E. Hutchison, Bellefonte, Pa.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.