Down the Nile

Published By: Little, Brown and Company

Book Category: Non-Fiction, Travel

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Reviewed by Dara O’ Sullivan

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.

Rosemary Mahoney’s descriptive powers are at times breathtaking. Her language is simple and yet evocative: the reader can feel the tension in a room, hear the tone of voice in a conversation, see the baked skyline, and feel the oppressiveness of the heat. She has an unusual ability to capture the trivial detail that conveys the essential substance of a situation.

Armchair Interview says: This is one talented writer—and is a top-drawer book.

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