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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Adrift on the Nile

Naguib Mahfouz

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To purchase Adrift on the Nile

Title: Adrift on the Nile
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1966 (Eng. 1993)
Length: 167 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Adrift on the Nile - US
Adrift on the Nile - UK
Adrift on the Nile - Canada
Adrift on the Nile - India
Dérives sur le Nil - France
Das Hausboot am Nil - German
Chiacchiere sul Nilo - Italia
  • Arabic title: ثرثرة فوق النيل
  • Translated by Frances Liardet

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Our Assessment:

B : effective small, dark tale of lives adrift in 1960s Egypt

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Globe . 17/2/1993 Robert Taylor
Independent on Sunday . 30/5/1993 Leslie Wilson
The NY Rev. of Books . 30/11/2000 Edward W. Said
TLS . 21/5/1993 Dick Davis
World Literature Today . Winter/1994 Ramzi M. Salti

  From the Reviews:
  • "The plot of Adrift on the Nile (...) follows a classic and effective pattern." - Robert Taylor, Boston Globe

  • "This elegant and intellectually satisfying novel, first published in 1966, is more disturbing now than when it was written." - Leslie Wilson, Independent on Sunday

  • "This novel (...) perhaps epitomizes the absurdist stage that characterized Mahfouz's writing in the late sixties. (...) It is worth noting that the translation by Frances Liardet succeeds in conveying both the colloquial nature of the dialogue among the characters and the classical tone of Mahfouz's descriptions of the various settings." - Ramzi M. Salti, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The title, Adrift on the Nile, certainly describes the lives of the characters that populate it, especially civil servant Anis Zaki. They are adrift in an Egypt that allows only limited outlets -- political, cultural, sexual -- refusing (or unable) to take anything too seriously. And for most of the novel they are literally adrift on the Nile, as much of the action (or inaction) takes place aboard Anis' houseboat.
       They talk, they smoke kif (hashish) from a water pipe, and Anis' friends use the houseboat for more intimate socialising as well. It is a permissive island, a sort of get-away from real life -- though Anis, in particular, is unable to escape. He also doesn't appear to be very good at his job, but doesn't have the creative (or romantic) instincts of his friends that make them appear freer and happier.
       Much of the novel is in the form of dialogue, a mix of flirting and philosophising -- some of it surprisingly risqué (at least to readers accustomed to a stricter picture of Islamic culture). A new member of the group, a young journalist, Samara Bahgat, adds to the mix. After she has participated in several of their evenings Anis finds a notebook of hers in which she has outlined a scenario for a play, including descriptions of the various figures in it -- modeled closely on the houseboat revelers; the scenario and descriptions are reproduced in full, taking up almost an entire chapter. It is very much their story, a variation on the theme of the novel itself, guided by "the collapse of belief -- belief in anything."
       The crisis comes when they decide to go on an expedition late at night, taking a car out for a drive. Catastrophe follows; instead of dealing with it, they flee -- and try to return to their relatively carefree lives.
       Anis, in particular, has trouble dealing with it, and manages to get himself fired from his job. He insists the group should take responsibilty for what they wrought, but the others are less willing.
       Adrift on the Nile is a dark look at a troubled society, the surface merriment and excess barely veiling the very fundamental faults in it. It's effectively presented, though the teasing banter can get to be a bit wearisome, and the book seems at times more sketch than novel. Certainly, Mahfouz displays his considerable range with this book, very different from many of his others, and bits are excellent. Of some interest, if not entirely a success.

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Adrift on the Nile: Reviews: Naguib Mahfouz: Other books by Naguib Mahfouz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz (نجيب محفوظ, Nagib Machfus) was born in 1911 and died in 2006 He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1988.

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