On the Brink of the Nile

Fiction - General
272 Pages
Reviewed on 06/08/2018
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Ruffina Oserio for Readers' Favorite

A mesmerizing story with a strong sense of conflict and an international setting in Egypt between 2001 and 2002, On the Brink of the Nile by Mahi Wasfy plunges the reader into an Islamic world where one woman struggles to empower students and parents, standing up for injustices against children and families. Mrs. Magda’s journey is challenged when she discovers that some teachers teach something else from what is in the curriculum and that they deviate from the core Islamic values. Children are not graded fairly. But does she have the tools to redress this? While in her freshman year at the American International University, Maha wants nothing more than to leave Egypt and study abroad, but there is so much to deal with, including her grades, the cultural challenges, and her quest to understand why a book is written about her grandmother.

This is a novel that deals brilliantly with social issues in a predominantly Muslim community and the author does an awesome job in weaving the religious tenets into the narrative. The setting — both physical and religious — is beautifully explored in this book and readers get an understanding of what it felt like to be a student in Cairo in the early years of the 21st century. The story is told in a powerful and clear narrative voice, punctuated by interesting and exciting dialogues that sound natural to the ear. Character development is one of the great successes of this book and readers will undoubtedly be delighted at how the characters evolve through the dialogue. I enjoyed the short chapters, featured in the form of a journey. Mahi Wasfy weaves intrigue into the story with the elements of Maha’s grandmother. On the Brink of the Nile is a huge success, balanced and deftly handled.

Jamie Michele

On the Brink of the Nile by Mahi Wasfy are the stories of two separate women in Egypt, Maha and Mrs. Magda. Maha is a young college student who is trying to find her feet in a world that she is bound to but does not feel a part of. She is Westernized in every sense and dreams of abandoning her school in Cairo for one abroad, but academically her grades aren't in an position to win an argument with her father. Her life is one of privilege, but to her it is unfulfilling, and the conditions of living in a restrictive society feel like a sarcophagus to her. Mrs. Magda is further along in life. Established professionally, academically, and personally. Still, she yearns for more and, in pursuit of it, she discovers a range of issues that a rigid and generally accepted structure held together in a bureaucracy makes fulfillment difficult to obtain.

On the Brink of the Nile by Mahi Wasfy is beautifully written. The intersection of Maha and Mrs. Magda is excellent, but even if it didn't exist, each has a fascinating story in her own right. The convergence is done exceptionally well and we get to see two women who are independently forces of nature fight against injustice as one. I think where Wasfy excels as a writer is in her character development. Even ancillary characters feel fleshed out, and the connection between readers and Maha and Mrs. Magda is instant. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy books where the hope of youth and the crusade of a matured heroine - both impassioned and galvanized in very different ways - leads to a perfect weekend lost in a wonderful story.

Deborah Lloyd

On Sunday, September 9, 2001, Maha was at the City of the Dead (an overcrowded, worn-out cemetery) attending her grandmother’s funeral. Two days later, the terrible events of 9/11 shook the world, and how it impacted life in Cairo, Egypt, is certainly interesting. Maha began her freshman year at the American International University, and it soon became overwhelming for her. Managing her schoolwork along with her social life caused great stress for her. Relationships with male friends became a precarious adventure. Maha had never learned how to speak or read Arabic, a required course. And, her first paper in her English Literature class was a failure. Mrs. Magda, a child and family advocate, became an ally for her, as well as for parents whose children were being traumatized by Islamic teachers. In the novel, On the Brink of the Nile, Mahi Wasfy presents the complexities of a traditional culture with contemporary life situations.

There are several story lines throughout the book, and the characters intersect with each other to establish and explain the main themes within the story. Each main character is well developed, and the dialogue is realistic. Maha is a young woman who is struggling to find her true self in a complicated society. Add to this, the intriguing and concerning portrayal of the educational system in Cairo, and the reader is captivated. Author Mahi Wasfy has created an excellent and honest portrayal of modern day Egypt in On the Brink of the Nile. The book is both informative and compelling – a thought-provoking read.