Friday, May 01, 2009

OTC 3: "Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth" -- Egypt

My third book for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge 2009 is Akhenaten:  Dweller in Truth by Naguib Mahfouz, translated by Tagreid Abu-Hassabo, and originally published in 1985.  Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. 

The historical Akhenaten (originally Amenhotep IV but he changed his name), who was pharoah for about 17 years during the 1340s and 1330s B. C., challenged the authority of the existing religion of Egypt, the worship first and foremost of Amun but of other gods, as well, and created a new religion which centered on the worship of a single god; he eventually outlawed the older religion and moved the capital of Egypt from Memphis to a city he ordered built, Akhetaten.  After his reign, the older religion was restored, his religion was banned, his city largely abandoned, and all public records were defaced to remove any trace of his existence or that of his religion.

Mafhouz's novel takes place after Akhenaten's death, when the removal of his recorded existence is already underway.  Meriamun, a young Egyptian of noble family who was only a child during the latter part of Akhenaten's reign, becomes curious about this individual whose very existence is being expunged from the records, and decides to learn and to record the truth about Akhenaten so that later generations will know who he was and why he has been deleted from official history.  So, with the blessing of his father (and his father's assistance in the form of letters of introduction to important political and religious figures), Meriamun sets out to learn the truth by interviewing all those who are still alive who knew and were associated with Akhenaten.  The novel itself  consists of his interviews, faithfully and accurately recorded.

What Meriamun comes to learn during this process is that there isn't one clear truth; there are as many truths as there are individuals with whom he speaks.  He talks to friends, companions, relatives, servants, opponents, and outright enemies, culminating with his interview of Nefertiti, Akhenaten's beloved wife who had mysteriously abandoned him toward the end of his life; in the process, he learns not only about many different Akhenatens but also a great deal about those he interviews, often as much about why they believe what they do as what they believe.  In the end, Meriamun leaves it largely to the reader to draw his own conclusions about just who Akhenaten was and what were his accomplishments, but does give us in the closing lines some indication of what he has come to think.

Because the novel was written in the early 1980s, some of the historical information in the novel  has been outdated by more recent archeological findings and is no longer entirely reliable.  But that's not particularly important; the novel is really about the kind of person Akhenaten was (at least as Mahfouz imagines him), and the book (which is short, only 168 pages) does an excellent job of presenting the reader with a fascinating portrait from multiple perspectives of the title character.  I highly recommend Akhenaten:  Dweller in Truth


Blogger Charmaine said...

I'm gonna marry you. Just you wait. Do you happen to have any money?

Okay, I just came home from a bridal shower. There was wine. I'm a little tipsy.

You and your academic adventures combined with hysterical humour.

Who wouldn't love this Hedge?

5:17 PM  
Blogger Hedgie said...

"I'm gonna marry you. "

Threats will get you nowhere.

"Do you happen to have any money?"

Surely you jest.

"I just came home from a bridal shower. There was wine. I'm a little tipsy."

I just came home from Barnes & Noble. There was chai. I'm a little teapot.

8:09 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I'm not going to marry you! No need to wait. However, I enjoyed this review, Hedgie, and got a big laugh out of the response you provoked from Charmaine. Interesting sounding novel, too!

9:07 AM  
Blogger Hedgie said...

"I'm not going to marry you! "

Saints be praised!

Thanks for stopping by; I have read half a dozen of Mahfouz's novels now, and I've enjoyed every one of them. He deserved the Nobel, without question.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Charmaine said...

What? You've rejected my proposal?You must be mad. But at the end of the day I could never marry a tea-pot.

I mean, if you were a coffee pot that would be something.

I'm making you more interesting.

Just enjoy it.

7:30 PM  
Blogger Hedgie said...

Actually, I was a coffee pot in one of the routines the comedy group I was with back in the 70s performed regularly. I can still blurble quite enticingly.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Charmaine said...

Ah jeez, you're impossible. Gurggling or burbling...


6:34 AM  
Blogger Sarah (tuulenhaiven) said...

Excellent review! I'm very interested in reading this book. What else would you recommend by Mahfouz?

5:22 AM  
Blogger Hedgie said...

"The Cairo Trilogy" --Palace of Desire, Palace Walk, and Sugar Street -- is usually considered Mahfouz's finest work; I enjoyed it very much. I also particularly liked Arabian Nights and Days, which is a kind of sequel to the original 1001 Arabian Nights in that it's concerned with what happens to the sultan after he's told all the various stories by Sheherazad.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Sarah (tuulenhaiven) said...

"Arabian Nights and Days" sounds right up my ally. Thanks for the recommendations. The TBR list gets ever longer!

5:08 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've always found akhenaten to be interesting because his religion was a type of monotheism that is rarely mentioned. Sounds like a great book.

11:27 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

This sounds like one I should check out. I've heard of the Cairo Trilogy, but hadn't read it yet. Thanks for another good possibility.

7:07 AM  

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