Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff

by Rosemary Mahoney

Hardcover, 2007





New York : Little, Brown, and Co., 2007.


Rosemary Mahoney was determined to take a solo trip down the Egyptian Nile in a small boat, even though civil unrest and vexing local traditions conspired to create obstacles every step of the way. Starting off in the south, she gained the unlikely sympathy and respect of a Muslim sailor, who provided her with a skiff and a window into the culturally and materially impoverished lives of rural Egyptians. Egyptian women don't row on the Nile, and tourists aren't allowed to for safety's sake. Mahoney endured extreme heat during the day, and a terror of crocodiles while alone in her boat at night. Whether confronting deeply held beliefs about non-Muslim women, finding connections to past chroniclers of the Nile, or coming to the dramatic realization that fear can engender unwarranted violence, Mahoney's informed curiosity about the world, her prose, and her wit never fail to captivate.--From publisher description.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member katiekrug
In a nutshell: Interesting travelogue evocative of modern Egypt but lacking some depth.

Rosemary Mahoney does an excellent job of depicting the experience of being a foreigner, especially a woman, in Egypt. The overly helpful and solicitous Egyptians who ask a lot of questions and the overly familiar (bordering on inappropriate) comments of Egyptian men who seem to look on foreign women as an entity wholly “other” from Egyptian or other Muslim women are perfectly captured here. I visited Egypt in 2007 – business in Cairo and then a short vacation cruising up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan – and Mahoney’s narrative brought back many memories. (If interested, I’ve posted some photos on the gallery in my profile.)

The book is about the author’s attempt to row down the Nile from Aswan to Qena, and the difficulties inherent for an American woman in doing so – from trying to buy a boat to avoiding the authorities who would prevent her from making the trip. She intersperses the story with excerpts from, and reflections on, the letters and diaries of other visitors to Egypt, most notably Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert in the 19th century. She also includes stories of her previous visits to Egypt and its various tourist destinations.

I enjoyed this book mostly because of my own experience in the country and because I could draw parallels between her impressions and mine. I think the book would also be a good source for understanding parts of Egyptian culture for people planning to travel there (current turmoil not withstanding). I expected it to be more of a memoir, to provide insight into Mahoney’s impulse to attempt a difficult journey, and to gain a better understanding of who she is and what drives her. Instead, the book is more of a straight travelogue with occasional insights into what she gained from the experience. And in that sense, the book was somewhat of a disappointment. But there were wonderful parts that certainly made it worth reading – especially the relationship she develops with Amr, a Nubian falucca (the traditional sail boat) captain who assists her at the start of her endeavor. As a person who has been blessed to travel far and wide and to a variety of interesting places, I liked and agreed with her final sentences: “Travel never makes one cheerful. But it makes one thoughtful. It washes one’s eyes and clears away the dust.”
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LibraryThing member NewsieQ
This was a book read and discussed by my non-fiction group. Although her writing is lovely, most members thought there was a lot of embellishment to the story. Either that or she was, we decided, "foolhardy." Still, it was a lively read ... I read most of it the first day I checked it out.
LibraryThing member dougcornelius
I enjoyed this book.

But at times it seems that it did not know what story to tell. There was the culture story of lone woman trying to row down the Nile, being subject to the gender repression and government intervention.

At times she was as afraid of being stopped from rowing as she was for her own safety. There was the element of adventure. But is was lacking tension of a clear goal of what she was trying accomplish.

It was interesting to lay such a foreign person and foreign in the middle of a country and culture that are not very accepting of the behaviors.
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LibraryThing member echaika
Very blah memoir. Like, who cares. I went to hear her talk and her talk was at least lively. The book is no.
LibraryThing member mahallett
Interesting but peculiar but then some people love to do particular things. She writes well And I think she's truthful. Also no one would think her trip so peculiar if she was a man. She probably wouldn't be able to find a publisher!
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
This is a 2007 book by an American woman who decides she wants to row on the Nile alone. It is quite an ordeal getting set up to do so. and in telling about it she includes much information on the Nile and its history and on others who have traveled the Nile, including Flaubert and Floence Nightingale (both in 1849). While it seems a bit weird to want to do it alone, one has to admire her determination. She spices her account a bit by telling of her conversations with Egyptian men, who often talk to her about sex. The book finishes with a vivid account of her being scared by an Egyptian man. With a strong finish, I decided this book was entitled to four stars rather than the three I was planning to give it.… (more)
LibraryThing member bblum
Mahoney suffers the indignity of being a women in Egypt trying to be an independent woman seeking solitude while rowing. She is very adept at describing the Egyptian / Nubian culture in regards to the inferior status of women and the struggle for local men to make a living in a poor country. She also brings in history and quotes of earlier European travelers to Egypt in the 19th century. She writes wonderfully.… (more)
LibraryThing member dcoward
I'm fairly shocked that this book got good reviews. People keep asking the author why she is rowing the Nile and she states "there is no why". And there really is no why. She does not appear to enjoy the rowing, what she is seeing, or the people she meets.



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