Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Book: Rosemary Mahoney's "Down The Nile: Alone In A Fisherman's Skiff"

After my disappointment in Rory Stewart's travelogue “The Places In Between” I wasn't sure if the travelogue genre was for me. I decided that one data point was not enough to judge so I chose another travelogue as my next read.

"Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff” describes Rosemary Mahoney's attempt to row a boat down the Nile by herself. When I read the description of this book, it sounded fascinating. There is some mystery associated with the Nile, Egypt, and Muslim society and I thought this would be an interesting way to tap into that mystery. Unfortunately Mahoney's adventure did not meet my expectations.

Since Mahoney is a woman, she has an interesting perspective on how Muslim men treat their women and how they treat foreign women differently. The first time she brought this up, I was very interested but eventually the repetition became old – this may be Mahoney's attempt to show how tiresome the Men's behavior was.

For a book about rowing down the Nile, there was very little rowing down the Nile. When does she get to the rowing part? Page 214, just 54 pages before the end. Oh, there's some rowing stuff earlier in the book but the rowing alone part doesn't start until 214. Most of the 268 pages of this book were about the author trying to buy a boat, Egyptian history, Muslim male chauvinism, and her favorite, the views of past tourists to Egypt. The vast majority of the book is occupied with quotes of other travelogues, especially those of Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale. Flaubert and Nightingale are quoted so much they should be given equal billing on the cover.

I guess you can sense that I was a little disappointed with this book. It felt like, after she wrote her story and realized that it wasn't that interesting, padded it with tangential facts and travelogue quotes to meet her editor's goals. A shame. I can't quite recommend it.


  1. "For a book about rowing down the Nile, there was very little rowing down the Nile." That just cracked me up!

    Ever read Rabin's "Old Glory: A Voyage Down the Mississippi"? Good river travel book. Not the Nile, not Egypt, but he does go through Cairo and Memphis, which are at least named after Egyptian towns.

  2. BM: I'll have to add that to my 'to read' list.