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Old 04-05-2014, 12:45 PM   #1
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Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth by Naguib Mahfouz

This is the MR Literary Club selection for April 2014. Whether you've already read it or would like to, feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time! Guests are also always welcome.


Some ebook availability-
Australia- Amazon
Canada- Amazon
U.K.- Amazo
U.S.- Amazon


So, what are your thoughts on it?



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Old 04-08-2014, 05:31 AM   #2
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I am about two-thirds of the way through the book and am enjoying this way of asking "What is the truth?" about a person or a situation. Reminiscent of that famous Japanese film Rashomon.

Anyway, I dug out an antique textbook called Egypt of the Pharaohs by Sir Alan Gardiner (not quite on papyrus, but almost) and thought you might be interested in a couple of things I found.

Firstly, the last of the Pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty, starting with Akhenaten, and using the spellings in the list:

Amenophis IV - Akhenaten 17 years' reign 1367-1350
Smenkhkare 3 years 1350-1347
Tutankhaten - Tutankhamun 9 years 1347-1339
Ay 4 years 1339-1335
Haremhab 27 years? 1335-1308?

So as you can see, a couple of the cast of characters went on to become Pharaohs themselves.

Second, this is a quote from a large stele erected by Tutankhamun, which says in part:

Quote:
When His Majesty arose as king, the temples of the gods and goddesses, beginning from Elephantine down to the marshes of the Delta had fallen into decay, their shrines had fallen into desolation and become ruins overgrown with weeds, their chapels as though they had never been and their halls serving as footpaths. The land was topsy-turvy and the gods turned their backs on this land. If messengers were sent to Djahi (Syria) to extend the boundaries of Egypt, they had no success. If one humbled oneself to a god to ask a thing from him, he did not come, and if prayer was made to a goddess, likewise she never came ... But after many days My Majesty arose upon the seat of his father and ruled over the territories of Horus, the Black Land and the Red Land being under his supervision.
This is no doubt the official version (i.e. that of the priests) of how everything went to pot under the rule of The Heretic.
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Old 04-08-2014, 08:51 AM   #3
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I'm delighted that this book won (though all the selections were excellent) I expect it to be a fascinating read.
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Old 04-09-2014, 03:29 PM   #4
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Bravo for the magnificent selection this month!
I cannot help but chime in, although I don't have the time to participate in the discussion. I read Akhnaten by Naguib Mahfouz with much pleasure, when I was travelling in Egypt two years ago; the more so as I visited his city El Amarna and one of his stellae.
Naguib Mahfouz is an excellent writer and the mystery, the unorthodox around this Akhnaten is reflected in the way he constructed this book.

Spoiler:
(excuse, I couldn't get the last photo to rotate...)
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Old 04-09-2014, 06:09 PM   #5
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Thanks so much for the photographs, desertblues. I have never been to Egypt - it must have been a wonderful experience to visit such ancient sites. (I love the scruffy sign!)

I have now finished the book but won't post about it yet. I agree: a very good selection indeed.
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Old 04-10-2014, 08:30 AM   #6
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I liked this book, but not so much as a "novel", more as an "exercise". The different interviews were quite plainly written (or translated) so there wasn't much to be impressed about with the writing.

However, I liked the idea of seeing many different sides of a series of events reminding us that history is not truth, it's always a point of view, regardless of the sincerity of the historian. Our hero - which I think of as the historian - confessed a bias at the end showing that even an outsider could not remain totally objective.

I was left not believing anyone in particular throughout the interviews. I doubted that the protagonist's great quest for truth was going to yield the results intended. But that's what I liked about the story.
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Old 04-11-2014, 12:35 AM   #7
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Yes Caleb, I absolutely agree about there not being just one version of history. I also agree that the writing style was plain and direct, but I noted down a couple of quotes that I really liked - both from people who admired Akhenaten.

Nakht, the minister of Akhenaten's chamber, said (Chapter 13 page 14):

Quote:
This is a story of innocence, of deception, and infinite grief.
And Bento, Akhenaten's physician, said with great psychological insight (Chapter 14 page 16):

Quote:
He confronted people with their mediocrity and provoked their deepest fears. So they pounced on him with animal anger and desperation.
I kept a note of who the various people were, and there were six who were "against" and eight who were "for" Akhenaten. He was already someone whom I found extremely interesting because of being so radically different from most of the other Pharaohs, so I didn't need to be convinced by numbers. And of course that interest meant my sympathies lay with Akhenaten and his supporters.

However, if we pretend that these interviews really did take place, my feeling is that the truer portrait of Akhenaten came from his supporters. After all, they had nothing to gain by continuing their loyalty to him and his beliefs after his fall. (On the other hand of course, it can be argued that this only reflects the sympathies of Mahfouz!)

At least the priests didn't imprison or kill his supporters after their return to power, which is more civilised that plenty of other upheavals in history. We know this is true for Ay, who became Pharaoh (see the list I put up earlier) despite being the father of Nefertiti and father-in-law as well as tutor and counsellor of Akhenaten. So if he survived, it seems reasonable to believe that other supporters also survived.

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Old 04-13-2014, 06:36 PM   #8
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Caleb, I also agree with your analysis. However I was somewhat disappointed, in that I found that virtually all of the characters, with the exception of Nakht, where lacking in subtlety: each had a pretty stark view of Akhenaten and his story, and it is putting them together that gives us a rounder picture, but I found the single dimension of each perspective unconvincing.
I could not avoid comparing this treatment of "truth" to Pirandello's, which to me is vastly more nuanced than in Akhenathen - dweller in truth - but I know I am impossibly biased
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Old 04-14-2014, 10:22 AM   #9
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Actually I agree with you, paolo. The "message" was a bit heavy handed. I guess I enjoyed it more because I liked the idea enough to forgive some of the delivery.

It's a bit hypocritical of me considering I accused Orwell's Animal Farm of the same crime without offering the same concession.
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Old 04-14-2014, 05:07 PM   #10
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I found it interesting that one could empathize so easily with each interviewee regardless of whether they were in the "for" or "against" column. Their motivations were presented in a relatable way.
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Old 04-14-2014, 09:43 PM   #11
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Meriamun sets off on a quest for the truth, "a path that has no beginning and no end, for it will always be extended by those who have a passion for eternal truth." The eyewitness testimonies contain some consistencies suggesting the truth yet expose many biases. The reader is left uncertain and must contemplate the truth. I wish the story had not ended so abruptly. I would have liked to hear what Meriamun & Father discussed afterward! I enjoyed their chat at the beginning of the book.

Today, so many centuries removed from events, the historical record is still uncertain and experts can't agree. Modern archaeological & scientific evidence continues to support and refute theories. Here is an interesting article from Smithsonian Magazine.
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/histor...656174/?no-ist

I liked this paragraph in particular.
Spoiler:
Early Egyptologists saw in Akhenaten's approach the first stirring of the great monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to come. "Not a rag of superstition or of falsity can be found clinging to this new worship," wrote Flinders Petrie, a British archaeologist who dug at Akhenaten's capital in the early 1890s. Sigmund Freud even argued that Moses was an Egyptian priest who spread the religion of Aten. There is, of course, no evidence linking the cult of Aten to today's monotheisic beliefs, and no archaeological evidence of Hebrew tribes appears until two centuries after the pharaoh's death. Nor do scholars agree on what accounted for Akhenaten's beliefs. "As a result," says Egyptologist Betsy Bryan at Johns Hopkins University, "people tend to allow their fantasies to run wild."
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Old 04-15-2014, 04:22 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bookworm_Girl View Post
Today, so many centuries removed from events, the historical record is still uncertain and experts can't agree. Modern archaeological & scientific evidence continues to support and refute theories. Here is an interesting article from Smithsonian Magazine.
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/histor...656174/?no-ist
very interesting, thank you!
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Old 04-15-2014, 04:57 AM   #13
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Thanks from me too, Bookworm_Girl - good find.
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Old 04-16-2014, 11:24 AM   #14
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I think I might be slightly biased aboud Mahfouz as a writer, as I read his trilogy on Caïro when I was in that very city and read his book about Ahknaten when travelling through the desert and seeing Egypts wonders......also his 'adrift on the Nile' had me thrilled after seeing for myself those elegant white houseboats ( though not its decadent occupants...)on the Nile.
( and now in Medan, Sumatra after some 26 hours of travel and am reading and rereading Hella's Haase books about the Dutch in Indonesia). I'll be away for a month....tomorrow I'll see the orang utangs in the protected forest of Sumatra.)
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Old 04-16-2014, 03:29 PM   #15
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Enjoyed the book, but can't participate in discussion now - surgery on right arm a week ago and can't type. I look forward to reading from others and writing when I can.
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