Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

Though the title is "Nefertiti" this is really the story of two very different sisters. Nefertiti is the beautiful one burning with ambition, the star destined to rise high and shine bright. Mutnodjmet, the narrator of this tale of blind ambition, religious turmoil, and royal intrigue in Ancient Egypt, is the plain one who longs only for love, a husband and a child and a quiet life tending her medicinal herbs and dispensing them to those in need. But circumstances force Mutnodjmet to live in her sister's shadow and play handmaiden to her ambition.

When Nefertiti is chosen to be the Chief Wife of the young mentally unbalanced Pharaoh-to-be Amunhotep the Younger, whom history would remember as Akhenaten "The Heretic Pharaoh," everyone hopes she will curb his foolish excesses, and put an end to his insane obsessions with worshipping the sun disc Aten, setting him above and abolishing all other gods and goddesses, especially Amun, and destroying the all-powerful priests of Amun. But rather than displease her royal husband and see herself relegated to the dim recesses of the royal harem with all the other women who live only for the Pharaoh's pleasure, and shut away where her beauty can no longer shine, or be forced to play second fiddle to her rival, Secondary Wife Kiya, Nefertiti supports her husband 100% in his mad folly, egging him on to greater acts of audacity and daring, dominating him, and transfiguring herself into an icon, and a living goddess, along the way. Thus the stage is set for tragedy; it's plain from the start that this story cannot end happily.

II thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Moran's rendition of this controversial era in Egyptian history; she makes the characters come vividly and sympathetically to life. Even those who have few likable characteristics are still human beings readers can in some way relate to, even if it is only sibling rivalry or jealousy, or a case of the grass looking greener on the other side, Ms. Moran's characters come off the page as real people with wants, needs, ambitions, desires, and dreams.

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