Ten young professionals spend their evenings drifting in a houseboat on the Nile until a senseless tragedy splits them apart--in a brief 1966 novel, the most clearly modernist work yet translated into English by the Nobel-winning author of The Cairo Trilogy. The group's master of ceremonies, Anis Zaki, is a widower at the Ministry of Health whose addiction to smoking kef is so severe that he can write out and submit a lengthy document at work without noticing that his pen has run out of ink. Anis marks time from night to night, when he and his thirtysomething friends--a translator for the Foreign Ministry, an accountant at the Ministry of Social Affairs, a lawyer, an art critic, a noted writer of short stories--gather to cast off from the shoreline for endless, aimless conversations about Egyptian society, politics, religion, and other imponderables that lead to gravely modish insights: "Last night I believed totally in eternal life--but on my way to the office I forgot the reason why." One night the group is joined by Samara Bahgat, a "serious" journalist, and their placid world begins to shiver. Announcing that she "will not be tempted into the abyss," Samara begins to keep a notebook casting her companions as characters in a play about "the Serious versus the Absurd"; she draws ever closer to Anis without acknowledging or returning his love; and when the group, out joy-riding one night on the streets of Cairo, runs clown and kills a pedestrian, she insists they go to the police--even if it means a prison term for the driver and the end of their "paradise." Quietly, disturbingly incisive about modern Cairo's uneasy truce between old ways and new, though less powerfully compressed than either The Cairo Trilogy or last year's magical The Journey of Ibn Fattouma.