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Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff    by Rosemary Mahoney order for
Down the Nile
by Rosemary Mahoney
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2007 (2007)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Rosemary Mahoney's Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff has all the right ingredients for travel literature - an unusual adventure with the requisite amount of personal risk, an exotic foreign setting, and meaningful encounters with the people who inhabit it.

Mahoney tells us, 'I had come to Egypt to take a row down the Nile', in particular 'the 120-mile stretch of river between the cities of Aswan and Qena.' Why would anyone want to do that, you ask? Mahoney rowed regularly after living on a small island in Maine, finding it 'a peaceful, meditative activity' but also enjoying its challenges. After a visit to Egypt, she was fascinated by the north-flowing Nile, that 'had fostered whole cultures and inspired immense social and scientific concepts'. Which may simply sum up to because it is there, a credo that inspired expeditions and explorations through the centuries.

Mahoney had several major obstacles to overcome - the acquisition of a suitable rowboat; avoiding officialdom and its care for the safety of tourists in the wake of the terrorist attacks that damaged Egypt's tourism industry; and local cultural incomprehension of a woman undertaking such an adventure. Though she managed the latter by positioning the rowboat purchase as a surprise birthday present for her husband, it was still incredibly difficult to find one and her persistence is commendable.

Rowing on the Nile, something she'd often been told was impossible for a woman in Egypt, Rosemary Mahoney muses on her resentment of 'all the things people said one should and should not do ... People were always conjuring a wall up and telling you to stay on your side of it. More often than not, the wall was false, a cliché, an inherited and unexamined stock response to the world.' Hear, hear!

Along the way, she comments on Egyptian history, foreign rule, and modernization; Western countries' looting of Egyptian archeological treasures in the 1800s; visits to the country by personalities such as Florence Nightingale, Gustave Flaubert, and Amelia Edwards, and what they said about it in letters and journals; the origins of the term booze; and the habits of Nile crocodiles. If you enjoy travel literature, or are interested in Egypt, you'll find Down the Nile both engaging and informative.

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