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Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff Paperback – September 15, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This is travel writing at its most enjoyable: the reader is taken on a great trip with an erudite travel companion soaking up scads of history, culture and literary knowledge, along with the scenery. The genesis for the trip is simple: the author's love of rowing. Her plan, "to buy a small Egyptian rowboat and row myself along the 120-mile stretch of river between the cities of Aswan and Qena," is less so. Mahoney (The Singular Pilgrim; Whoredom in Kimmage) conveys readers along the longest river in the world, through narrative laced with insight, goodwill and sometimes sadness. Mahoney's writing style is conversational, her use of metaphor adept. She cleverly marshals the writings of numerous river travelers but focuses on "two troubled geniuses": Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert. The device allows readers a backward glance at the Edwardian travel accoutrements of sumptuous riverside dinners, staggering supplies of alcohol and food, trunks of books and commodious accommodations. The physical environment is demanding. "When I removed my hat, the sun had made the top of my head sting... it was like having a freshly baked nail driven into one's skull." Yet her biggest obstacle isn't the climate but the slippery hurdles of culture and sex. Whether struggling to buy a boat, visiting historic Luxor or rowing, innocent encounters become sticky psychological and philosophical snares. Still, the ride is smooth, leaving the reader wishing for more nautical miles. (July 11)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Boston native and avid rower Rosemary Mahoney, once an assistant to playwright Lillian Hellman, has led a peripatetic life, and her writing reflects the breadth of her travels and the depth of her thinking on cultural matters. Previous efforts include The Early Arrival of Dreams, the author's experiences in China just before Tiananmen Square; The Singular Pilgrim, a spiritual travelogue; and Whoredom in Kimmage, a treatise on Irish gender roles. In On the Nile, the author writes beautifully of the connections between culture and history-though critics note how reluctantly she shares details of her own life outside her travels. Still, Mahoney's voice is direct and honest, her Nile as evocative as Paul Bowles's desert, her wit a counterbalance to the unease engendered by such a profound cultural divide.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 273 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1 Reprint edition (September 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316019011
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316019019
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #721,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rosemary Mahoney was educated at Harvard College and John Hopkins University and has been awarded numerous awards for her writing, including a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Whiting Writers Award, a nomination for the National Book Critics' Circle Award, a Transatlantic Review Award for Fiction, and Harvard's Charles E. Horman Prize for writing. She is the author of Down the Nile; Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff, a New York Times Notable Book, A Likely Story: One Summer with Lillian Hellman, The Singular Pilgrim: Travels on Sacred Ground, Whoredom in Kimmage: The World of Irish Women, a National Book Critics Award Finalist and New York Times Notable Book, and The Early Arrival of Dreams; A Year in China, a New York Times Notable Book. She is a citizen of Ireland and the United States and lives in Rhode island

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The single word that summarizes this beautiful book is "exquisite." It is an exquisitely written travel diary, a brief and inquisitive glimpse into an alien world and culture, in a land that has entranced travellers, tourists, and adventurers for centuries. The result is neither patronizing nor rose-tinted, but compassionate, human, often perplexed, and occasionally fearful.

An accomplished rower, Rosemary Mahoney sets off to fulfil her long-time ambition to row down part of the Nile. Most regard her as stir crazy for even thinking about such a feat, particularly as a woman, in an Egypt paranoid about tourists travelling alone.

Her greatest difficulty turns out to be the seemingly simple task of procuring a boat. Having spent days in Aswan, trying to persuade somebody, anybody, to sell her a small craft, she eventually meets a gentle Nubian felucca captain, who agrees to let her use his boat on condition that he sail his felucca at a distance behind her for protection. Having successfully completed this leg of her trip, she travels to Luxor where she buys another boat and travels a farther stretch of the river to Qena, this time completely alone.

The real treasures in this book are the accounts of Rose's encounters with ordinary Egyptian people, from the giggling group of Nubian village girls, to the creepy Jimi Hendrix look-alike felucca captain. Her conversations with some of the Egyptian men make for wonderful reading. Their mixture of mischievousness, naivety, and malignity; their bizarre and unhealthy obsession with sex; their `doublethink' attitudes to Western and Muslim women, all offer a unique insight into the minds and culture of the people that is accessible, refreshing, and humorous.
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Format: Hardcover
Knowing that this book is about an American woman who makes it her mission to row a boat down a section of the Nile, you may think you've got an idea of what it's about. You don't. You have to read it. Just about anything you might anticipate doesn't happen. It's a travel book that's really about being a foreigner - and a woman - in a culture where both tourists and women are regarded with a mixture of fierce protectiveness and alarm. It's easy to use the word chauvinistic to describe the Egyptian men's response to Mahoney as she attempts to buy a row boat to start her journey in Aswan. But it's far more complex than that. Along the way, she meets men of all kinds, most determined to take her under their supervision, while making over-familiar advances. Only one, a Nubian, seems to regard her with the respect she is accustomed to, and half of the book has passed before she is able to finally make an arrangement with him that lets her borrow his boat, while he follows her downstream at a distance in another. Meanwhile the few women she meets envy her freedom and her ability, as a westerner, to move about in the world as she wants.

The journey she takes in the book is not so much about what she sees along the way. Like Florence Nightingale, Flaubert, and other earlier visitors to Egypt, whose travel writings she includes in the book, she focuses on how travel "washes one's eyes and clears away the dust." Illumination comes in the form of talks with the people she meets, and what they reveal is often a kind of perplexed dismay at the cultural ironies that weigh down the spirit and generate a longing for a life that is always elsewhere. Until the final pages, rowing down the Nile itself turns out to be mostly uneventful.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a rather strange take on the usual "My Trip to Egypt" memoirs written by other intrepid adventurers to the area. Most of the book is spent with the author obsessively searching for a boat in which she can row herself down the Nile - alone. The quest to obtain such a boat brings her in contact with a bevy of wild and wonderful characters - none of them keen to see the author realize her ambition.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mahoney's description of the Egyptian people - their confusion as to why on earth a woman alone would want to row down the Nile, and their often bumbling efforts to allow them to do the rowing for her. She brilliantly evokes the feeling of the Nile and the Egyptian land, so that you can almost feel the heat from the sand and hear the river in it's relentless flow. I came to love the character Amr - a gentle Egyptian with a huge heart and even bigger spirit.

Mahoney peppers her account with fascinating insights from luminaries such as Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert, both of whom had travelled to Egypt in the previous century and had each written of their own
experiences. And along with the historical points of interest, Mahoney unearths all sorts of weird and wonderful facts that won't fail to surprise and titillate the reader.

But then we come to Madeleine Stein. Here is a woman who lives and works in Egypt, speaks fluent Arabic, is obviously somewhat of an adventurer, and she agrees to accompany the author down the Nile in order to satisfy the legal requirements of the inspectors. Indeed, the book is dedicated to her. A fascinating woman by anyone's account, but what does she look like? How old is she? Who does she live with? What does she think about things?
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