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The Names of Things

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  168 ratings  ·  32 reviews
A striking, original memoir of the archaeology of language praised as "an etymological wonderment" (William Safire) and "simply and eloquently -- magic".
Paperback, 230 pages
Published June 1st 1998 by Riverhead Trade (first published 1997)
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The strapline: A Passage in the Egyptian Desert.

Dedication: For Lanny

Four Sections:

Dead Lanuguage - You could begin with the crab that scratches in the sand. The name of the animal is the action or sound it makes, or its color.

page 21: Bale de bale kerulos eien
os t'epi kumatos anthos am' alkuoessi potetai
nedeed etor exon, aliporphuros iaros ornis

Would oh would I were a kingfisher that flies with the halcyons along the breaking waves, with a fearless heart, that holy bird, the deep blue of the
Karin Jacobson
Mar 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books. I've often turned to Morrow's rich, lyrical language for solace or inspiration. This book is deeply spiritual, while also grounded fully in the landscapes Morrow loves: the Finger Lakes and Egypt. The book is also about language, and Morrow explores the natural history of words deep in Egypt's deserts. One reviewer criticized the book because, "Her prose is so lyrical that the book is more like reading poetry than anything else." To me, that's a plus, not a ...more
An interesting read that weaves the study of language, egypt and hieroglyphics with personal narrative. I found it to be OK ... for me, the highlight is on pages 5 & 6:

"The flamingo is the hieroglyph for red. All red things: anger, blood, the desert are spelled with the flamingo. The Red Sea Hills are mostly red. The red rock is vibrant in the changing light.

Near here are lavender mountains with cranberry cliffs. Silver and blue and green wadis wind around them. But the true red of the
Marinda Bland
Jun 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is one of those miraculous books that you scavange from the basement of the Uptown Booksmart. I'd never heard of Susan Brind Morrow before I found her book in the Egypt section, but now I think it's amazing that she doesn't have her own wikipedia page.

Not only is her memoir beautifully and lyrically written, full of vivid imagery, but Morrow is about the coolest damn person I can think of. Maybe even cooler than Kathy Acker. Linguist, Archeologist, Egyptologist, Translator, Writer - Morrow
The quartz-flecked blue marble of the vine-crowned Coptic columns absorbed into the qiblah has been eaten by the air into waves.

Paint a thousand words. Scarlet birds. Sparkling sands. Rivers of green. Gold etched in bookbinding. Orange-bellied fish. Lemon-green dawn. Yellow jacinth, the six fabric of heaven.

Susan Brind Morrow takes her North American upbringing, including the loss of a close relative, and attaches herself to Egypt via her love of language. Whether it's Arabic, Latin, Greek, or
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Mrs. Brind Morrow took me on a beautiful journey I won't soon forget and inspired me to listen more closely to the land and the people next time I go a-traveling.
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
For an author writing about words, I thought I would like the style more. I just couldn’t get into it. It was hard to relate to as it was mostly personal tidbits from New York to vague observations of Egypt, written in a non-linear thought process.
Apr 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of language & travel.
I'm not quite done with this, but I'm going to review it anyway. It's a fascinating book by a writer who really knows words from all sides. Brind Morrow weaves together her memoir, her experiences travelling in Egypt, and etymologies of words in Arabic, ancient Greek, and other Mediterranean/Middle Eastern languages, ancient and modern. The book doesn't quite have enough forward momentum to make you pick it up again once you set it down - at least if you have a busy life like I do - and it ...more
Nick Schroeder
Oct 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's been awhile since I've read this but after reading it the first time I have gone back and reread sections. I agree with Brian's review that the section on pages five and six on "red" is great writing. It's a book that is often on my night stand because it's a book that after you've read it once you can pick up and open to just about any page and enjoy the writing. Ms. Morrow, you must write more.

I've also read "Wolves and Honey" but had to get it from the library. I always check the shelves
Apr 06, 2008 rated it liked it
This is an unusual read. Morrow is a linguist with an interest in the nature-based origin of ancient Egyptian words and hieroglyphs. She loves Egypt and its people, no matter their poverty and superstition. This narrative mixes her life, family memories, and observations of beauty with her travels and studies. The result is quite interesting. Oddly enough for someone interested in words, I found her sentence construction awkward and often difficult to follow; I guess its the poetry coming out.
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a strange and wonderful book with very little discernible structure; I resisted the looseness of it for awhile but then came to love Morrow's mind and felt like I was sitting with her in her tent as the sand blew in and as she was letting go of any permanence in her understanding of refuge. I love most her evocation of the Egyptian desert and those who live there; she writes through a lens of love.

I love many sentence structures, like a note-taking structure on 87:
“The ritual of arriving
John Fredrickson
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is a marvel. It is simultaneously a travelogue, a woman's memoir, an exploration of language, and more. The author is intensely visual in her descriptions of the creatures and nature in her surroundings as she explores the reaches and peoples and culture of Egypt. One gets a sense of an extraordinary generosity of spirit in the people she interacts with in her journey through a very exotic land.

There is an intensity in this book which is hard to get a handle on. I could only read this
Lorri Lofvers
Feb 06, 2019 rated it liked it
The Names of Things: A passage in the Egyption Desert *** Susan Brind Morrow is a poet, linguist, and Egyptophile. She decodes hieroglyphics. Visual, peaceful, intellectually stimulating, informative. Fun to follow her journey.
Mike Wigal
Mar 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beautifully descriptive.
Deborah Black
Jul 10, 2008 rated it liked it
A small and absorbing meditatively paced memoir of one woman’s travel adventures from New York City to the deserts of Egypt and Sudan in search of “the birth of language”. Living with nomads, navigating the harsh terrain and many obstacles, what emerges, more than travel writing, is the experience of the world through the eyes of a linguist and naturalist. A contemporary mid-eastern Walden. Anyone who loves language will be drawn in by Morrow’s spare poetic style and observations rooted in a ...more
Aug 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone with an interest in Egypt, language or travel
Shelves: wouldreadagain
This woman, Susan Brind Morrow. Wow, she is amazing. This book is amazing. I don't know who recommended this book, Mary Matto? Ana? It's beautifully written and can reach you on many levels. For me, I am most enjoying reading about this woman's connection to people she meets in Egypt, Sudan through the many many times she has lived there and also through her own healing process. It makes me ache. She's also a super smarty pants. William Safire gave this book a 'an etymological wonderment' which ...more
Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fascinating; lyrical and unpredictable account of the author's travels in Egypt, mostly in deserts. Unclassifiable. Erudite, thoughtful, evocative, sensitive, and amusing, all at the same time, somehow. Ruminations and reflections on her life, past and present, almost make this a memoir more than a travelogue. It made me remember my visits in Egypt and Sudan, especially the gentle warmth of the people, once they trust you, and the lilt of Arabic.
Alex Cunningham
May 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Etymologists, humans
Brind Morrow will tell you what a word is worth. She knows, because she's a world-class etymologist and a person deeply enough in love with life to attempt to wrestle it down and stuff it into the pages of a memoir about journalism, relationships, and the natural world of Cairo. The less said about this book, the better, because her language feels older and deeper than the ocean, and as hard to contain.
Sep 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. Although I've never been to Egypt, Susan Brind Morrow made me feel as though I was there with her. Her words paint pictures of what life was like in Egypt in the 1980's. Her descriptions of the landscape and people are beautfilly written. A fascinating insight into another culure.
Farzana Marie
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Some wonderful moments in this book: insights on language, naming, and the archeology of words.
L.R. Hughes
May 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Superb. An artsy, abstract swirl of travel anecdotes, the history of language, and insights into the complexity of the human condition.
Jan 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
A little book that is much bigger than you expect it to be: rich with respect for language, sensual pleasure taking in beauty of the natural world, savory of the kindness of north Africans.
Apr 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
The descriptions of the desert make you feel like you're there and can see how the words originated.
Jan 23, 2016 added it
Beautiful use of the origins of words to describe her affinity for the Egyptian desert.
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Kept trying but just couldn't get seem to through this book. Finally gave up. Guess the writing style just wasn't my cup of tea.
Oct 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Gorgeous memoir about etymology and the desert peoples of Egypt and Sudan. One of my absolute favorite books.
Beautiful use of the origins of words to describe her affinity for the Egyptian desert.
Elizabeth Smith
Mar 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Beautiful descriptions of Egypt, and the linguistic stuff is marvelous. But I felt oddly distanced from her in this book -- her memoir style is sometimes too cryptic for my taste.
Feb 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
A charming and inventive book, part travelogue, part etymology, exploring the northeastern parts of Africa—Egypt, Somalia, etc.
Mar 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gifts
I enjoyed this book immensely. A wonderful gift from a friend just before a family trip to Egypt and some journies across the deserts described here.
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