Mika Waltari: The Egyptian

So, a posting in English for a change. I read Mika Waltari’s novel The Egyptian (Sinuhe egyptiläinen) in English, thus the language.
The best book I’ve ever read, I must say. I had already read it in Finnish, in secondary school, but already back then I was convinced that I’d read it again.
I started reading the book as early as in July or August. The first 120 pages I read in Swedish, because I wanted to brush up my Swedish skills before the matriculation examination in Swedish (which took place on September 12, 2006). In December I noticed that reading the book in Swedish was slow, so I just changed translations! However, thanks to the spring’s matriculation exams and ”general busyness”, I made it to the last page not before the evening of Long Friday (EDIT: Good Friday. Why can’t you call it ”Long Friday” like normal people? ;)). (I had to renew the book’s loan a total of five times, which is the maximum number of renewals allowed.)
About the book. The Egyptian is (one of?) the most translated and internationally sold Finnish novel. Mika Waltari wrote it at the end of the Second World War, it was published in 1945. Many people believe that the book actually features an allegory of the war and the different nations surrounding Egypt would represent the countries involved in the war. However, the book was also filmatized in hollywood in the 1950’s. They broadcast it on Finnish TV in December, and I must say that the film doesn’t reflect the strong emotions and the message(s) of the book very well. The story had to be abbreviated, for the book is 500 pages long.
What makes The Egyptian such a great book? Well, there are many possible explanations. I think it’s the book’s variety of themes and aspects that make it so versatile and therefore enjoyable. The novel deals with most of the classic themes of fiction: warfare, travelling, love and romance, and the basic questions of life, like ”Why am I here?” It’s also a book about ideologies and inner conflicts.
Therefore, the book can’t be categorized in just one narrow genre. First and foremost, it’s a historical novel; a pretty accurate one, according to experts. But secondly, it has got ingredients of an adventure story. And of a romantic novel. And a philosophical reflection that reveals that the things we ponder about have always been pondered.
About the plot. Spoilers are marked {”invisibly” like this}. Sinuhe is abandoned by his parents as a baby. (It’s never revealed for certainty who his parents were, but a wild theory about his roots is revealed little by little in the book.) He’s found by a childless couple, a poor people’s doctor and his wife. Sinuhe wants to become a doctor, too, and starts studying. According to Egyptian custom, he’s ordained a priest of a god called Ammon. That’s when he founds out about the hypocricyWiktionary of other priests. He’s disappointed by religion.
Sinuhe falls desperately in love with a beautiful seductress called Nefernefernefer (’Beautifulbeautifulbeautiful’). Eventually he gives her all his (and his parents’) money and ownings. Because of this, {his parents are evictedWiktionary. They become so desperate and generally tired of life that they choose to take their own lives. The parents’ suicide letter} is the saddest passage of fiction that I’ve ever read; a very emotional episode, indeed. It’s so moving how they {trust their son whatever the situation: ”Do not grieve for us though you must sell our tombs, for assuredly you would not have done this without good reason.”}
Poor and ashamed, Sinuhe flees from Egypt with his slave, Kaptah, who becomes his friend later on. Before that he becomes acquainted  with Egypt’s royal family, most importantly with AkhnatonWikipedia, the pharaoh-to-be, who is a central character of the book. (Note that Akhnaton is a historical figure, Sinuhe isn’t.)
Sinuhe’s loneliness is a main theme of the story. Travelling abroad, he falls in love with a Cretan woman, but {the woman dies a horrible death. ”Everybody I love dies” -phenomenon is clearly visible.}
The historical background of the story involves the Atenist revolutionWikipedia. The new pharaoh, Akhnaton, makes major changes in the Egyptian society – changes that are spurred by his idea of Aton, the god of the disc of the sun. In the book, Akhnaton is depicted as a fundamental idealist and Atenist, but the historians see him differently. It’s widely believed that IRL Akhnaton just wanted more power to himself by declaring Ammon (see above) a false god and banning Ammon’s worship. The historians’ view is supported by the fact that Akhnaton also banned direct worship of his own god Aton, commanding the people to worship his family which would then worship Aton.
Atenism (belief in Aton) is characterised by many features that we know from other ideologies. Atenism is a kind of a monotheistic religion because it emphasizes the significance of one god, Aton. The book includes many allusionsWiktionary that suggest that Atenism is similar to Christianity. But its ideology also resembles that of socialism’s – equality is supported, social classes are abolished. It’s actually a historical fact that when Akhnaton founded a new capital, he had the lower class’s houses be built right next to those of the rich. In the book, the new freedom and equality don’t make people happy, though; the society becomes unstable.
In the book, Akhnaton is also a pacifist. He doesn’t want to hear about the enemy-nations’ violations and attacks, and most certainly refuses to start a counter-attack. Military commanders and other leaders urge him to start defending, but he only sends gifts to foreign rulers.
Things get worse and worse. Then, the pharaoh finds a solution: he claims that all the problems are due to {Egypt’s old gods. He thinks that Aton isn’t content, because he had only forbidden Ammon and allowed the other gods to be worshipped. Therefore, the pharaoh declares that Aton really is the only god. He also declares that the society has to be totally equal. Unfortunately, the people aren’t as idealistic as the pharaoh. The poor start slaughtering the rich and taking their property. Finally, everybody grows tired of the chaos, and the old society is restored.

Sinuhe is involved in the conspiracy that assassinates the pharaoh. He is also involved in the lives of the next pharaohs, one of whom is his old friend, Horemheb, a successful military leader.} Despite the restored order, Sinuhe is very bitter. {He has lost his beloved and his own son in the civil war between atenists and the conservatives.}He critizises the new pharaoh and the society, and reminds the people of Aton. {His old friend, Horemheb, the pharaoh, has to expel Sinuhe from Egypt because of his inconvenient preaching . He lives the rest of his life isolated, writing his autobiography called} The Egyptian.
The pictures: The book-cover. Pharaoh Akhnaton’s statue – doesn’t he look charismatic? (Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.5.)


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