Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Rhadopis of Nubia: A Novel of Ancient Egypt

If you know me, and if you've read my blog before, you'll know that I am a huge fan of Ancient Egypt. I love the creativity poured into the somewhat restricted types of architecture of the time, and I absolutely love the mystique that the era exudes.

Though Pharaohs and using slaves are not cool. Just saying. Even their advanced civilizations (of the time) and so called 'power' couldn't save them from being wiped out.

Even so, I feel like the Ancient Egyptians had a colorful life, and a sinfully luxurious one. Granted, my feelings may be influenced solely by modern representations of the era, and only of 'royalty'. I still admire the creativity of the people and their ideas. It's a shame they were so big headed and too proud for their own good (i.e. Pharaoh during the time of Moses AS; many sins much blasphemy from the stories of that Pharoah).

Moving back on track, I recently purchased a book as I was immediately drawn to the title and cover- I am sure I am not the only one who does this. Here's what I saw, and immediately picked up:

This may be unappealing to you, but my attention was captured by that bust (?) of a woman (?) on the cover. I knew it was something to do with Ancient Egypt and sort of bought it without reading/understanding what it was about. Sue me. 

So, I've read it. And I'd give it a 7/10. I think that's fair. 

Spoilers ahead, though most quite general and available in the book's blurb.

It is about Pharaoh Merenra II, who falls in love with the enchanting and seductive and unconditionally loved (by all men who set eyes on her), Rhadopis. Fate seemingly brought them together in the form of a falcon, stealing Rhadopis' golden sandal and dropping it onto the lap of the Pharaoh. Determined to meet the owner of the sandal after finding out about her beauty and all the men who clamber to be with her- but are rejected, naturally, the Pharaoh personally journeys to Rhadopis' white marble palace on the Nile. They immediately feel chemistry between them and fall in love, not being able to resist. A whirlwind romance begins, despite the Pharaoh having a wife. They are oblivious to the rumors and the negative perceptions of the people around them. Rhadopis stops entertaining other men and her focus and her life becomes the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh inundates her palace with riches- his people's riches, and their romance takes a quick, brutal and predicted turn from there. 

Naguib Mahfouz is wonderful with his composition, I will say that. His words are so calming, and elegant. Granted this is a translation of the Arabic text by Anthony Calderbank, and to quote him "The language Mahfouz uses is distant and regal....Whereas the canons of Arabic textuality allow Mahfouz to repeat the same words many times, a variation in the vocabulary is preferred in the English." I give a good amount of credit to Mr Calderbank for choosing such fitting words to shape the story. 

Most of the story did not appeal to me as much as I would have liked it to. It was simple, and because of that, it was predictable. I suppose Mahfouz intended it to be as such, as this story is supposed to relate to the uprisings in a more modern and recent Egypt, which it does. That is probably why I found it predictable, because subconsciously my mind knew that this had happened recently, or is slowly happening now. I am not suggesting that our leaders are Pharaohs, or that they are mindlessly giving no heed to the needs of their people. I am saying that this book describes the a situation in which a leader behaves irresponsibly and faces the wrath of his people whom he did wrong by. 

To the more vivid and colorful parts of the book, the descriptions of the world, the places and the feelings felt were beautiful. It is the first time I would have ever thought to describe the dawn as something blue.

"Her senses suddenly became sharper and she remembered that she had remained awake, her eyelids not tasting sleep until the gentle blue waves of dawn washed over her."

The sky by day is definitely blue, and by night, it looks black, but the hue of blue that drapes over us in the early hours of the morning have never really occurred to me as something to notice until now.

And my personal favorite line from the book,

"Blessed is an awakening that stirs beautiful memories in the heart."

The paragraph in which this line was written just makes me feel so light and airy and like I should be wearing a white flowy dress and prancing around happily just to read it.  

Other than these two favorite lines, what I liked about this book was that the emotions existing between the Pharaoh and Rhadopis came across as very real and visceral, to me at least. The description of infatuation and passion that so strongly pulled the two together was so satisfying to read. Though their romance was fast paced and quite irrational, that was what made me believe in it even more. The surreal way that they met and immediately pursued their love affair just made me think about how hedonism was weaved into the fabric of their nature; indulging at every and almost any possible chance. 

All in all, this book was a good read. If not for the story or the plot, I implore you to read it for Mahfouz's writing, or should I say, Calderbank's translation?

Till next time,

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