The Egyptian: A Novel

The Egyptian - Mika Waltari, Lynda S. Robinson, Naomi Walford This just misses five stars--because it took me a long time to warm up to the Sinuhe, the protagonist and narrator, and it's just a little bit too much of a downer. So no, I wouldn't call this a happy tale--but it is a rich epic and great historical fiction of Ancient Egypt under Akhenaton, its heretic pharaoh. Had I not known going in, I wouldn't have guessed this novel was written in 1945. Although that might explain some of its bleakness--I've read that when it was published, it resonated with people who had seen humanistic ideals collapse in the face of Stalin, Hitler, the Holocaust. This is set in Ancient Egypt over 1,300 years before the birth of Christ. Akhenation is thought to be the first monotheist, so he holds some fascination for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Before this I had read Naguib Mahfouz's Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth. Mahfouz is a Muslim and I thought I could detect that coloring his novel. Waltari, for his part, was supposedly a believing Christian. His novel doesn't come across as Christian fiction though--at all. As I said, it doesn't come across as written in 1945. I didn't feel as if there was a overlay of a worldview alien to the time in which this was set--and for me that's the mark of great historical fiction, that you feel transported to another place and time, rather than reading modern people in historical costumes. In fact, I think Waltari did almost too well--as I said it took a long time for me to warm to Sinuhe. Especially in his youth he was arrogant, misogynist, and too-stupid-to-live. But there are positive, strong female characters in this novel--they're just not very apparent early on. And Waltari set this not just in Egypt--this is like a grand tour of the Bronze Age world--Egypt, Canaan, Syria, Babylon, Hatti, Crete. There are allusions to both Biblical stories and Greek myth. Sinuhe was found as a baby floating in the river on a reed boat and Minea, one of the positive female characters, is a bull-leaper from Minoan Crete--and there is a minotaur and a labyrinth. According to what I gather from online, Waltari did extensive research for this book and garnered praise even from Egyptologists. So truly, this novel is a great ride I'd recommend to anyone looking for great historical fiction--even if I found it a rather melancholy read.