A post by Maynard
If you’ve got an eye for a good book, take a peek at Mika Waltari’s novel, The Egyptian. This was first published in Finland in 1949, and went on to take the world by storm. It became a best-seller, and has remained in print ever since. From the Amazon page:
The Egyptian outsold every other novel published in 1949, and remains a classic; readers worldwide have testified to its life-changing power. It is a full-bodied re-creation of a largely forgotten era in the world’s history: the Egypt of the 14th century B.C.E., when pharaohs and gods contended with the near-collapse of history’s greatest empire. This epic tale encompasses the whole of the then-known world, from Babylon to Crete, from Thebes to Jerusalem, while centering around one unforgettable figure: Sinuhe, a man of mysterious origins who rises from the depths of degradation to become personal physician to Pharaoh Akhnaton.
This is a historical novel, and it’s a pleasing way to absorb a meaty slice of ancient history. Akhenaten was a controversial pharaoh; he is portrayed here as a mystic and a true believer who aspires to lead Egypt away from corrupt paganism and toward something resembling ethical monotheism. However, dreams such as his don’t translate smoothly into reality, and Akhenaten’s attempt to transform Egypt yielded catastrophic results. His religious advocacy faded upon his passing.
As a side note, the historical Exodus would be placed somewhere in the aftermath of Akhenaten’s reign. Some secular scholars have suggested a connection between Akhenaten’s advocacy of primitive monotheism and the religion of the early Jews. That has nothing to do with this novel, but it’s an interesting point.
Anyway, The Egyptian is told as living history from the first-person perspective of a fictional narrator. As such, it’s not about historical details so much as it is about people. This is what makes it a readable, engaging tale. It was also considered a bit racy for its day, but really nothing inappropriate or more than mildly risqué. It shows humanity as it is, for better or worse.
I thought of this book because Egypt is today in the news. Of course, today’s headlines have nothing to do with this bit of history…except that people are people, and human nature remains unchanged over the eons. Perhaps I take some comfort in the reminder that there is nothing new under the sun. Other than the fact that we can kill more people with greater ease these days, it’s all the same story.
If any of the foregoing sounds interesting, click to Amazon and go to the “Look Inside” link and read a few pages.
(Oh, I suppose I should mention the film version, from 1954. And I’m not slamming the film, but neither do I really care about it. It’s the book that captured me, not the movie.)