Who isn’t fascinated by the ancient Egyptian culture? Ever since the grade school days, when I wrapped my G.I. Joe in gauze and made a sarcophagus around him out of clay, detail painted like the King Tut photos we studied in school, I’ve never turned down an opportunity to visit an Egyptian exhibit. And yet I fully admit that I know very little about the era beyond what I’ve learned in school and on exhibit information panels.
Husband and wife Egyptologist team, John and Colleen Darnell not only share some insight from their research but offer up a narrative of what life might have been like for the royals and ‘gods on earth.’
This is the second time in my recent memory that I’ve encountered a non-fiction book which includes a fiction narrative based on the research (The Real Valkyrie by Nancy Marie Brown, reviewed May 2021). I’m not sure if this has been going on for awhile or if this is a new fad. When done well, it can be quite effective.
But to be done well, it still needs to be thought of as a story. Fiction, with a plot. Some sort of driving force to keep the story moving forward. If it’s fiction just to relate day-to-day activities … we can get that through the non-fiction information.
Through their research, the Darnell’s posit that Akhenaten and Nerfertiti were more than just royalty but considered to be gods, manifest human and ruling on earth. The evidence seems indisputable. But then I’m not an Egyptologist – which leads a little bit to my problem reading this.
While I’m fascinated by the culture and history, I’m really not conversant here. I struggle with the names – quite different from my own culture – and the language. Getting a family tree of sorts doesn’t actually help me, but often just served to confuse me more:
DNA testing of royal mummies provides a clue: Mutemwia, Amunhotep III’s mother, may have been the sister of Tiye’s father, Yuya. Tiye was probably educated by her father, Yuya, who also served as tutor to her future husband, Amunhotep III. Nefertiti’s family connections rest on more circumstantial evidence, but that same DNA analysis means that she could have been a first cousin of her husband, Amunhotep IV, on both his maternal and paternal sides. This would mean that Eighteenth Dynasty pharaohs of three generations, from Thutmose IV to Amunhotep IV, married into the same family from Ipu. Tiye and Nefertiti’s queenship may have had less to do with their presumed physical beauty and more to do with their intellect and schooling.
I think the Darnell’s do a very good job explaining a lot of the names and how they come about, but it’s still a monster chore for me to keep them straight. (I know, there’s a “Cast of Characters” at the beginning of the book, but this is one of the few times that reading on an e-device doesn’t make it easy to refer back to that list.)
I found the non-fiction narration a bit dry and what we might call ‘scholarly.’ It’s very appropriate for the professional world of research papers, but doesn’t exactly lend itself to the common reader: “Beside these polychrome delineations of foreign perfidy are representations of the lush floral and ample faunal bounty of Aten’s creation.”
The fictional story at the start of each chapter is interesting and definitely presents a good impression of what life may have been like and I liked how the authors clarify the fiction by addressing their discoveries and what leads them to make these assumptions. But as I address above, I don’t get a sense of purpose for the fiction other than to support their conclusions. They could just as well have written, “Their day may have started with …” and written in non-fiction format.
I’m still fascinated by the ancient Egyptian culture and I’ll still look forward to anything that provides insight, but this book didn’t do much for me. It did provide some insight to the ‘godhood’ manifestation of some royalty, and I’m confident I’ll remember this the next time I visit an exhibit, but this was a lot of book to work through for that little bit.
Looking for a good book? Egypt’s Golden Couple by John Darnell and Colleen Darnell is a well research, but rather academic, presentation of some theories of ancient Egypt.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Egypt’s Golden Couple: When Akhenaten and Nefertiti Were Gods on Earth
authors: John Darnell and Colleen Darnell
publisher: St. Martin’s Press
hardcover, 384 pages