Adrift on the Nile by Naguib Mahfouz

Adrift on the Nile Adrift on the Nile by Naguib Mahfouz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is my first venture or introduction to writings from the middle east, specifically Egypt. So I approached it with some prejudice, inevitably because so far I’ve only read fiction from the West and a couple from the East, most from Japan.

After successfully reading past the first chapter, I was surprised to actually begin to like this book. The absurdist element Naguib Mahfouz introduced very early on in the story sold me entirely, lock, stock and barrel. I was amused by Anis, who works in some government department. Given the task of annotating some procedures, he never realizes at all that his pen had no ink when he was writing, so that he presents pages of blank papers to his superior, who then, rightly, accuses him of being a drug addict.

Which he is, in some way. Every day after work, come evening he takes to a riverboat on the Nile, to smoke hashish with a group of friends. There some old man prepares a water pipe for them. They pass the pipe around and get high, and talk about love and life.

Most of the action in the book centres around the riverboat, and the dialogue actually sounds like a transcription from a play. Which is incidentally what a new guest, a female journalist, Samara, is writing. We know this because Anis looked into Samara’s notebook, and found that she has taken as the players his friends in the riverboat.

With pages upon pages of mere dialogue in this vein, you might be tempted to abandon the book halfway. But, believe me, you won’t, when the talk among Anis’s friends are flirtatious, about women and sex, and philosophical, about the meaning of life then in the 60s of Gamal Abdel Nasser, their country’s leader.

Things stop being idyllic when they decide to drive out in the middle of the night, all of them drunk and high. Returning, their car hits something, they are not sure what. But, the next day they found out from the news, that they killed a man. Guilt follows, especially Anis’ and Samara’s. Anis breaks down from the stress and gets fired from his job. He tries to persuade the others to report their involvement to the police, but they refuse. One of their arguments is that the man’s death is one among many that is a commonality in Egypt.

Adrift on the Nile was made into an Egyptian movie in 1971. It is in black and white, which makes me nostalgic for those 60s black and white Eqyptian comical movies Malaysian TV used to show years back. Today you can still sometimes catch such movies on Astro’s Eqyptian channel.

View all my reviews >>


  1. katztales says

    I stopped reading after the first para as it looks like a story I'd like - but I don't want the ending spoiled!

    Just to say Merry Christmas and a Happy (Gregorian) New Year. Purrs and headbutts from all of us for 2010.

    Leon Wing says

    I'm sure you'd love this book. I'm going to look for his other works.

    Merry Xmas & Happy New Year to you and your cats!!!

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.