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The Twelve Rooms of the Nile Hardcover – August 21, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A mesmerizing new work of historical fiction...The Twelve Rooms of the Nile...ribald and sometimes explicitly sexual, is a fascinating travel back in time" (The Miami Herald)

"Let’s talk about the imagery first. Let’s choose one word: magnificent. This is the Nile; this is Egypt; this is desert sun and camel rhythms, Harem seduction and ‘spavined mules.’ This is what Shomer does best.” (Beth Kephart The Chicago Tribune)

“Shomer’s exquisite debut is an intellectual adventure through mid-nineteenth-century Egypt as experienced by two dissimilar people sitting on the cusp of greatness, though neither one knows that. Prim, earnest Florence Nightingale yearns to do good works, but her sex and disapproving family constrain her exuberant curiosity. Gustave Flaubert, a devoted cynic, loses himself in debauchery while seeking literary inspiration . . . a captivating story about close friendship and all the pleasures and complications of understanding another human being. The superb characterizations, poignant observations on the Egyptian religion, and depictions of the land’s ethereal beauty—all perfectly interwoven—are rendered in memorable language that excites and enriches the mind.” (Sarah Johnson Booklist (starred review))

“The meeting in 1850 of Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert in Egypt, an unlikely but immensely satisfying confluence, is deftly imagined in this brilliant book. The louche Flaubert and the sober Miss Nightingale are fitting representations of ourselves as life’s travelers—alternately lazy and alert, sensuous and restrained, complacent and curious.” (Susanna Moore author of The Big Girls)

“I could not imagine it: Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale as friends, almost as lovers! Step by step, detail by detail, Shomer constructs the story of how a man and a woman with nothing in common but genius, one French, one English, one steeped in cynicism, one drowning in despair, could meet on the Nile in 1850, talk, write, hold hands, and see into each other’s souls. As brilliantly sensual as it is finely psychological, this novel is a tour de force of twenty-first century storytelling.” (Gillian Gill author of Nightingales)

“With the voice of a poet and a keen eye for time, place, and character, Enid Shomer tells of the imagined intersection of two famous lives—and the communion of two unlikely souls—on the crossroads of the Nile. Beautifully written, touchingly rendered.” (Alan Brennert author of Moloka'i)

“Once in a blue moon I read a novel and want to weep with envy that it is not my name on the cover. The Twelve Rooms of the Nile is such a book. This clever, funny story of Florence Nightingale—English, earnest to a fault, virginal—and Gustave Flaubert—hedonist, sexual gourmet, and cynic—is brilliant. Every sentence, every paragraph shimmers with the color and heat of the Nile and the intelligence of the characters.” (Roberta Rich author of The Midwife of Venice)

"With its beauty and wit, its bawdiness, its specificity of characterization, its historical rigor, and its cinematic evocation of time and place, The Twelve Rooms of the Nile is an astoundingly good first novel. In fact, forget ‘first.’” (Daniel Menaker author of A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation)

“Enid Shomer’s ingenious first novel, The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, is a richly imagined meeting of the minds of two brilliant, iconic figures . . . skillfully depicted here as unformed youth, a pair of lost souls on the cusp of greatness. This is a poignant story of two very different people who find that true illumination often comes in the form of the unlikeliest of human relationships.” (Amy Hill Hearth New York Times bestselling author and winner of the George Foster Peabody Award)

About the Author

Enid Shomer won the Iowa Fiction Prize for her first collection of stories and the Florida Gold Medal for her second. She is also the author of four books of poetry. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, and many other publications. She lives in Tampa, Florida.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (August 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451642962
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451642964
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,129,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Flaubert and Nightingale are brilliantly drawn here in meticulous detail--in all their mid-nineteenth century glory, he with his sex obsessions, she with all her idealism and sexual ignorance. This book is also for anyone interested in an exquisite evocation of these famous European travelers on a Nile cruise in the mid-1900s. Shomer has done all her research on her historical figures and on the Egypt of the time, but the book wears the research lightly--partly because the central focus is on the psychology of the characters and also because it's a witty, touching tale. Shomer explores how isolated people can be, even from those close to them, especially when issues of experience, gender, and class intervene. She has woven an engaging tale of a developing friendship and flirtation between two of the most brilliant minds of the period. This book builds with the deepening of their connection, as they find each other and the courage to find themselves.
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Format: Hardcover
Some literary critics resisted the relatively recent introduction of historical characters into fiction, while others cited such auspicious precedents as Napoleon's appearance in War and Peace in its defense. The fictional purists lost the battle, and a trickle of novels like E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, in which Harry Houdini and Emma Goldman appeared beside completely made-up characters, became a flood in the era of Post-modernism. Eventually, literary figures old enough to be out of copyright were lifted too, so that the lives of beloved characters--suspended by their creators so that readers could imagine their own endings to the story--were spelled out for an audience that had lost its power to dream. In time, everyone from Elizabeth Bennet to Abraham Lincoln was busy fighting vampires, werewolves, or zombies. The perfectly-timed rise of the Internet, like the earlier invention of the camera, lowered the bar to the point where even books still in copyright became raw material for lesser writers to re-imagine, a trend that climaxed in the 50 Shades Trilogy, wherein the thinly disguised Twilight novels have their missing erotic dimension restored.

Such Mannerist characteristics as parody and rapid progress through genres have historically indicated the end of an era, a time when less ripe examples of the trend struggle for attention. That may explain the relative lack of attention for a far more interesting venture, Enid Shomer's Twelve Rooms of the Nile. Based on a handful of Victorian journals and such surviving records as early Baedeker's and similar primitive travel guidebooks, this novel imagines what might have happened during simultaneous forays among the antiquities lining the Nile River that were actually undertaken in 1850 by Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert.
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Format: Hardcover
Having thoroughly enjoyed Enid Shomer's short stories, I can say this book does not disappoint. You won't want it to end. (I also can't help but think this would make for an exquisite movie.)
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found "Twelve Rooms of the Nile" absolutely captivating. And the most unexpected treat was getting three books for the price of one. "Twelve Rooms" is primarily the story of an intimate relationship that develops between two unexpected soul mates. It's a wonderfully evocative travelogue about Egypt and the Nile in 1850, and it also delves into class issues and cultural divides in that era of French and British colonialism.

"Twelve Rooms" tells the tender story of the meeting of hearts and minds between French writer Gustave Flaubert and England's Florence Nightingale during a months-long sojourn along the Nile in 1850. They seem to have radically different lives and dispositions. Flaubert is terribly cynical and a voracious womanizer. Florence is deeply moral and earnest and has no experience with love or sex. Yet the two meet and spark at a time when they are both experiencing existential crises. He is mourning the deaths of his father and sister and is frustrated because his early writings have been failures. She is despondent over the many limitations placed on her as a woman. She is haunted by the certainty she was meant to do something important in her life but has not yet discovered her call to nursing. It's impossible to convey the subtlety and charm with which Shomer brings these two lost souls together. I was really touched by their relationship.

The trip along the Nile includes treks through desert expanses and stops at bazaars, whorehouses and the sites of ancient ruins. Shomer writes sensuous descriptions of the sounds of the water's currents, the sting of sandstorms on the skin, the smells of the local food and pack animals, the texture of fabrics, and the colors of the sunrise and sunset over water and sand dunes.
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Format: Hardcover
The Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Shomer is a beautiful and well-written historical novel about the exploration of Egypt by French Author Gustave Flaubert and Englishwoman Florence Nightingale. While historical facts never confirm that Flaubert and Nightingale ever crossed paths while on their exploration journeys Ms. Shomer weaves a poetic dream of a "what-if" story. The imagery Ms. Shomer paints with her words is outstanding. I could see every detail of this trip as though I was watching the story unfold through my window. The ships, the flags, the dress, the Nile river, the Egyptian pyramids and monuments were all described with exacting detail. It was highly descriptive, but not boring. The entire story read like a dream and I didn't want it to ever end.

The characters, Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale, lived such separate lives it was difficult to imagine them ever becoming friends or confidantes until I read The Twelve Rooms of the Nile. Flaubert, a failing author, is also a sexual addict with an overly abundant appetite for prostitutes and a strong revulsion to the institution of marriage. Nightingale is an ambitious dreaming woman who has always been too curious and too outspoken. Nightingale has also rejected the idea of marriage and is in pursuit of a greater purpose that she feels God is calling her toward, though it has not yet been identified. The idea of these two being involved romantically is difficult to fathom yet the idea of these two lost and wandering souls as friends and companions is sensible. From their first true conversation after dinner on Nightingale's exploration boat the intellectual bond between these two is evident. They balance each other beautifully and Ms. Shomer weaves their lives together in a very simple way.
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