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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Rhadopis of Nubia

Naguib Mahfouz

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To purchase Rhadopis of Nubia

Title: Rhadopis of Nubia
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1943 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 228 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Rhadopis of Nubia - US
Rhadopis of Nubia - UK
Rhadopis of Nubia - Canada
Rhadopis of Nubia - India
L'amante du pharaon - France
Radubis - Deutschland
  • Arabic title: رادوبيس
  • Translated by Anthony Calderbank

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Our Assessment:

B : fine if somewhat overblown story in historical setting

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Seattle Times . 9/12/2005 Michael Upchurch

  From the Reviews:
  • "But it's Rhadopis of Nubia, a tale of pharaonic isolation, delusion and inflexibility, that may speak most directly to American readers. (...) Mahfouz builds the tensions of their situation with a fine narrative artistry -- and with unexpected humor." - Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Rhadopis of Nubia is set in ancient Egypt, "more than four thousand years ago", and centres around the love-affair of Rhadopis and Pharao Merenra the Second. As translator Anthony Calderbank points out in his Introduction, "Mahfouz sacrifices historical accuracy, bringing disparate places and people together", and Rhadopis of Nubia is not meant to be a faithful historical novel. Instead, Mahfouz offers a heady mix of myth and romance (and fairy tale and historical epic).
       Part of the strength of the novel is the strong figure of Rhadopis, an independent woman, "enchantress and seductress, queen of all hearts and passions". She toys with any number of men, and her soirées are wildly popular, with art, philosophy, and politics discussed there (while all the while the sexual tension is almost overwhelming). She has a whole collection of men wrapped around her fingers -- and, as one of Pharao's advisers explains:

She is beauty herself, Your Majesty. She is an irresistible temptation, a desire that cannot be controlled. The philosopher Hof, who is one of her closest friends, has remarked quite correctly that the most dangerous things a man can do in his life is to set eyes upon the face of Rhadopis.
       It's a bit much for any character to live up to, but in this case works fairly well, since it serves as a useful counterpoint to Pharao, a similarly complete-awe-inspiring and practically super-human figure (though more because of his position than his person).
       Rhadopis and Merenra II are, of course, destined to find each other. In keeping with the myth-like approach Mahfouz takes they are brought together by a falcon that scoops up one of her sandals and drops it literally into his lap (yes, Mahfouz takes it so far that it falls literally into Pharao's lap ...).
       They're both smitten, but Rhadopis is warned of the high cost being a favourite of Pharao would be: what she values above all else is her freedom, and being a member of Paharo's harem -- even a favoured one -- would certainly put an end to that. But Rahdopis has never succumbed to love before, and it is love that proves all-powerful here. For Pharao too, as he is willing to conduct their affair on different terms, in order to please her.
       They find true love -- but that brings with it other problems, including a very jealous queen. As significantly, Pharao is having trouble as ruler, as the clergy are protesting his efforts at land-reform -- and doing a good job of getting the citizins on their side. As Pharao focusses on his new-found love, dissent grows and plots are hatched.
       Pharao's expectation of being all-powerful and getting his way complicate matters, as a little bit of realpolitik might be called for. But he can't help himself:
     A look of vehemence appeared on the king's face. "Is it right that Pharao should yield to the will of the people ?" he said furiously.
       Rhadopis of Nubia suffers some from the simplification and exaggeration of court life and the politics of the time. It reads a bit like Dumas, but without Dumas' solid foundations. Which isn't to say that it's not good and occasionally riveting reading -- but there isn't quite enough substance to it. The characters and situations are rich and compelling, but ultimately Mahfouz is too satisfied with his larger-than-life romantic tale.
       Appealing enough, but a bit too simple.

       (Calderbank's Introduction usefully notes:
     The language Mahfouz uses in Rhadopis of Nubia isounds distant and regal, echoing the srangeness of the sacerdotal incantations and pharaonic pronouncements, suiting the historic and solemn nature of the happenings; the feel is classical, even archaic. (...)
     Whereas the canons of Arabic textuality allow Mahfouz to repeat the same word many times, a variation in the vocabulary is preferred in the English. When Mahfouz repeats the Arabic words for fear, pain, sadness, and unease two, three, or four times hot upon the heels of one another to build dramatic atmosphere and regulate the rhythm, the translator into English needs to resort to its vast repertoire of synonyms, balancing the registers of Saxon and Latin roots, and making choices that can often lead to compromise.
       Calderbank's translation certainly reads well enough, but it's worth keeping in mind how very different the original text must be.)

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Rhadopis of Nubia: Reviews: Naguib Mahfouz: Other books by Naguib Mahfouz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz (نجيب محفوظ, Nagib Machfus) was born in 1911 and died in 2006 He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1988.

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