Wednesday, June 16, 2010

'Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth' by Naguib Mahfouz

In a break with protocol thus far, I'm reviewing the last book I finished. Books about pharaohs would not usually be my bag, but I picked this up a couple of years ago while on holiday in Egypt, where my interest in such matters was always likely to be uncharacteristically heightened. Akhenaten, though, was a name that had first piqued my interest a couple of years earlier when I heard brief mention of him during a college lecture. He was the first person on record for propounding monotheism - the idea that there is only one god. As such, given the course of history and whatever your own religious convictions might be, he might very well be regarded as one of the most significant people to ever live.

The book, written by the Nobel prize-winning Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, is a fictionalised look at the repercussions of Akhenaten's insistence on converting the whole of Egypt to monotheism - an act that led to civil war and the terminal decline of the pharaonic dynasty. The story is told from a multitude of angles as Meriamun, a curious young man who can't remember the reign of Akhenaten, questions those who knew him, from palace staff to temple priests to his widowed queen, Nefertiti.
What surprised me about this book was how emotive it managed to be. I've read little in the way of historical fiction and didn't expect to feel such an attachment to the main character. But Akhenaten's insistence on swimming against the tide is a moving struggle, even when recounted in some farly emotionally detached language.
An oddity, this one, but highly recommended for anyone with an interest in ancient Egypt or the evolution of religion.