THE NAMES OF THINGS by Susan Brind Morrow


A Passage in the Egyptian Desert
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 Travels in Egypt, encumbered by passages of purple prose, from the wife of writer Lance Morrow. North Africa has long inspired intrepid literary travelers, including Isabelle Eberhardt, the turn-of-the-century author-adventuress who disguised herself as a man for her travels, and the singular 19th-century wanderer and prose stylist Charles Doughty. Morrow's fascination with Egypt grew slowly out of a classical education at Barnard College and an internship at the Brooklyn Museum (with its fabulous Egyptian collection), but it didn't turn into a love affair until she actually set foot there. She soon graduated from a peripatetic assistant's position on an archaeological survey in the Western Desert to an open-ended traveling fellowship in Egypt and the Sudan. Morrow's impressionistic series of reminiscences of her journeys from Aswan to the Red Sea show considerable erudition, often buried under pretentious prose. After her protracted grief over the deaths of her older sister and brother, she writes, Egypt ``as raw environment'' was ``like a knife cutting away the frozen parts of myself.'' Among her therapeutically rich and exotic experiences is a visit to a Cairo fortune-teller, who diagnoses an angry qarin (``my male twin, my invisible brother''). Such are the episodes in her ``passage from one state to another'': moving from city to desert, revitalizing the dead languages she studied with firsthand observations, and living as an ``honorary man'' in Muslim society. Morrow has a venturesome spirit and possesses an eye for character, as displayed in her account of a lengthy trip to the Sudan by ferry and a semifarcical encounter with an underage border-patrol soldier. Travel writing in the grab-bag meditative mode, but hampered by self-conscious desert rhapsodies. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: June 20th, 1997
ISBN: 1-57322-027-2
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1997


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