Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Nefertiti - Michelle Moran

Michelle Moran
Three Rivers Press

Historical Fiction

In a museum in Berlin sits perhaps one of the most fabled pieces of art ever to come out of ancient Egypt: the bust of the beautiful Queen Nefertiti. She’s notable for her great beauty, unusual headdress, and long slender neck. History shows that she was wife to Pharaoh Akhenaten, the man who attempted to install a monotheistic religion on a people who had spent a millennium or more worshipping various gods.

That’s the story in a very tiny nutshell. The brilliance of this novel is that it manages to bring Nefertiti alive in a very realistic way. Some facts are historical record, some are artistic license, perhaps, but it all adds up to a vibrant portrait of the woman who nearly changed the face of Egypt. The story begins in her childhood, and is narrated by Mutnodjment (Mutny) her younger half-sister.

Mutny travels with Nefertiti when she marries the heir to the throne of Egypt as a sort of lady-in-waiting. Through her eyes readers can experience the royal courts, the ascension of the new Pharaoh, and the vicious political infighting that takes place. Modern politicians have nothing on these ancients, who would do anything, up to and including murder, to put themselves in places of power and security, if only temporarily.

The story continues through the events that ended the reign of Akhenaten and Nefertiti and ends with the young price, Tutankamun coming to power under his vizier. These twenty years are detailed in both political and human terms. Nefertiti’s political ambitions equaled her beauty, and she found a way to wield power that was generally unavailable to women of her time. She had success and failure; faults and vanities; great joy and crushing sorrow. The author allows her all of this without diminishing her at all.

The author (see also: CLEOPATRA’S DAUGHTER) does an incredible job of making history and its inhabitants come alive. Her evocative descriptions allow readers to ‘see’ everything from garments and hairstyles to gigantic monuments and cities. For those confused by all the names, she helpfully includes a glossary, a timeline, and a family tree to keep everything straight. This is one of those rare things: a historical novel that reads like the author – and, thus, the reader – was truly there. This is one for the keeper shelf. And I’m already hoping for more.

Rating: 9
May 2008
ISBN# 978-0-307-38174-3 (trade paperback)


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