Adrift on the Nile Paperback – Jan 1 1994
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From Publishers Weekly
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.
From Library Journal
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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.