An audio file of this program is available in mp3 format; click to listen.
I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is Nefertiti by Michelle Moran.
Of all the classic historic periods that fire the imagination, the dynasties of Ancient Egypt I think are most mysterious. If you’re writing about Victorian England you can simply read the letters and look at the clothes and houses and jewelry. If it’s the court of Louis XVI, there are plenty of leftovers from that era to pore over as well. But if you want to bring the pharaohs and their families to life, it’s not as simple as reading a diary or looking at a painting. The rulers of Egypt left museums full of relics, but these people lived over three thousand years ago what does it mean when something is painted one color instead of another, or the king is depicted with the head of a lion and the body of a woman? The intent behind the artwork is an unfolding mystery. On the other hand, people being what they are, jealousy, love, war, and the desire for power were not invented in the 21st century.
Michelle Moran was captivated by the iconic bust of Nefertiti, which now rests in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, and set about writing her story. Moran wisely avoids putting words into the mouth of that ageless beauty by making her fly-on-the-wall sister, whose name is mercifully shortened to Mutny, the narrator. In fact, this is as much Mutny’s story as the tale of the couple who eventually became known as ‘the heretics’ Nefertiti and her husband/god/king/pharaoh Akhenaton. He was the pharaoh, you will learn, that decided through a combination of spoiled bratiness and maybe a touch of ADD that while ruling was hard work, having the people shower you with adoration, having endless festivals, and making lots of statues of yourself, now that was a party. He also decided to dismantle the priesthood and outlawed the gods and goddesses that the people had been worshiping for generations, making a new church of the sun god Aten with guess who? as the supreme ruler. His action led to the kind of despair that makes your once loyal subjects spit on the ground and call you and your beloved queen ‘the heretics’. But the way they got there, and how Mutny tried over and over to escape the orbit of her selfish sister (no slouch in the spoiled brat department was Nefertiti either) makes for a fine adventure.
If you have any interest at all in Egyptology, or you just want to take a look at the famous statue that inspired this book, Michelle’s web site is highly recommended: www.michellemoran.com.