NILE by Laurie Devine


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Star-crossed love, Egyptian/Jewish-style--in a long, slow tale (1945-80) that offers mini-series history and some exotic cultural textures. . . but never rises above its creaky soap/melodrama plotting. Devine's heroine is beauteous Mona, child of an Upper Egyptian mother and a Nubian father, a wee outcast (because of a bad-omen circumcision rite) in her muddy village. So high-strung mother Ummie takes little Mona to Alexandria--where the tot becomes the favorite servant in the home of the rich, cosmopolitan, Egyptian/Jewish al-Masris, while mystical, possessive Ummie reluctantly retreats to her home village of Karnak. Mona will forever be torn, then, between tribal-taboo legacies (her grandmother was murdered for smoking a cigarette) and the enlightened life in Alexandria: she's mentored by widower-doctor Baruch al-Masri; she's a beloved companion to Baruch's nephews--earnest Daoud, little retarded Batata, and handsome-devil Youssef (who goes through a hedonistic coming-of-age). And when the rise of Israel and the fall of Farouk bring a change of political climate, more barriers are placed between the growing passion of Mona and Youssef: Youssef's once-assimilated father Rafael joins the Zionist underground after anti-Semitic persecutions (and the riot-related death of Batata); the underage sweethearts are prevented from marrying, finally consummating their love on a Nile houseboat (pregnant Mona stews in guilt); worst of all, Youssef abandons Mona against his will--when he's taken to Israel in 1957, along with Rafael and Daoud, by Israeli Intelligence. So, for the next 20 years, the lovers will live separate, suffering lives. Mona, rejecting a marriage plea from now-Muslim Baruch (who stays in Egypt), returns to Karnak, becomes a mystical village midwife (""Could there be redemption in being a healer?""), and raises Youssef's son as an apolitical Egyptian--but All will fall in fatal, homosexual love with a Palestinian terrorist. Meanwhile, Youssef yearns to return to Egypt but does his best with kibbutz/amy life--marrying, fathering, and (after Daoud's battlefield death) daring to work for Israeli/Arab harmony. (The portrait of Israel is far from uncritical.) And finally, after Camp David, the old lovers can meet again in Alexandria--but the past is past (""Her life and Youssef's life were as different in depths and currents as the river was from the sea""). . . and Mona will live out her years with Baruch on the banks of the Nile. Lots of feverish prose, Nubian gynecology, and Alexandria/Cairo atmosphere--but, with murky central characters and history/dynasty clichÉs, this is a colorful yet unsteady trip up-river: too sluggish for pop-saga fun, too contrived for more serious satisfaction.

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 1982
Publisher: Simon & Schuster