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Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth A Novel Paperback – April 4, 2000

3.9 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nobel-winning Egyptian novelist Mahfouz (The Cairo Trilogy) appropriates, to wonderful effect, the craft of the biographer in these 14 elegant fictional testimonies on the brief but dazzling reign of the "heretic" pharaoh Akhenaten and his enigmatic queen, Nefertiti. First published in Arabic in 1985, newly translated into English, the narrative comprises many subjective versions of the early religious zealot Akhenaten's rule. Twenty years after the end of his reign, witnesses, royalty and relatives recount their stories to a young nobleman's son, Meriamun, who professes a passion for unearthing the truth. The particulars of Akhenaten's reign are unquestioned: the son of the great pharaoh Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, Akhenaten is a sickly, irreverent and spiritually inclined young man who ascends the throne when his brother dies. Inspired by religious visions, Akhenaten scorns Egypt's traditional pantheism and declares his devotion to the One and Only God. When his fervor leads him to decree that his religion shall be Egypt's creed, the pharaoh offends the all-powerful priests and invites civil dissension and foreign invasion. Eventually, he dies alone in his deserted city. Some of the narrators remain sympathetic to Akhenaten, including the heartbroken former royal sculptor Bek, who designed the shining new city of Aketaten. The High Priest of Amun, on the other hand, bitterly rues the era of the "mad king," while Ay, father of Nefertiti and former counselor to Akhenaten, diplomatically vacillates. The record culminates with Nefertiti's impassioned confession, though intentionally readers are left wondering: Which point of view are we supposed to believe? The making of history, like fiction, dwells in its infinite ramifications, and Mahfouz, ever the masterly stylist, accomplishes his lesson flawlessly. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In a novel set during the eleventh century B.C., Mahfouz details the story of a young boy, Meriamum, who seeks to uncover the "truth" about the titular character, the recently deceased pharaoh. Akhenaten, Egypt's first monotheistic ruler, endured a controversial reign, during which he struggled to impart his divine vision to an unwilling nation. Armed with a letter of introduction, Meriamum is granted interviews with those closest to the pharaoh: a diverse array of characters that include the high priest, childhood friends, soldiers, a harem member, and finally Nefertiti, Akhenaten's wife. As Meriamum pieces together the disparate accounts, both he and the reader are given a fascinating glimpse of Akhenaten, a man compelled to follow his faith no matter how disastrous the consequences. Mahfouz populates his engrossing novel with characters that are believably human and flawed; their conflicts with religion and politics have a timeless quality to which readers will respond. Although some might complain that the content of the interviews often becomes repetitive, readers interested in ancient Egypt will find this book immensely appealing. Brendan Dowling

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; third edition (April 4, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385499094
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385499095
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #307,642 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Not being much of a history-seeker, I borrowed this after having it recommended by a friend who read it, and was startled by its immediacy and was easily pulled in to the story of Akhenaten. The framework of having the story proceed as the narrator, Meriamum, piece together the history through interviews, brought everything into believability, and somehow contemporary at the same time.
Even if you have only a passing interest in Egyptology (and I can hardly claim that... only a few minutes of halting channel-surfing on the Discovery Channel), you will be drawn in to this well-written and engrossing book!
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Format: Paperback
Okay, I confess: I plagiarized the adjective beguiling from the back cover, but it was the best one word phrase I could come up with to describe this quirky book. In some senses, it reminds me of a detective narrative, a kind of Egyptian Oedipus who is searching for the "truth." The story in this case revolves around this monotheistic pharaoh and his peculiar religious leadership and reign. I'm not an expert at the history of the period -- my above reviewer points out several inaccuracies which if true would be disappointing to me. After reading 15 or so different interviews of those close to Akhenaten, some of the mysteries are resolved. It's a short read and quite a unique narrative that will transplant you to ancient Egypt. It's amazing at times how modern the narrative feels. How much really separates sexual escapades of someone like Clinton from those of the ancients? Not much as we see from our study of history. A bit offbeat, but a good read on an intriguing subject.
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Format: Paperback
Pharaoh Amenhotep IV - husband of Nefertiti and brother of Tutanhamen - is enlightened to "The One and Only God". He changes his name to Akenaten, denies the god Amun, has the name of all other gods extinguished and distributes their temples and the wealth of the priests to the poor. He leaves Thebes and creates Akenaten, his own city of light. He will never tell a lie, will never punish an evildoer and believes only in the surmounting power of love.
How do you deal with such a heretic? Love turns to envy, envy turns to hate. The enemy crosses the country's borders. The people revolt. The priests plot against him. All friends desert. Nefertiti leaves him. He dies young. His city of light disintegrates.
The book consists of "interviews" - about 15 years after the Pharaoh's death - with his closest friends and counsellors: his teacher, the high priest of his new religion, the chief of police, the leader of the army, and many more - ending with Nefertiti herself. By now they can tell the truth about their relationship to the king. Obviously, the message of all encompassing love for all the creatures on earth did not penetrate very far. Some want to promote their own gain, others just simply hate. Most think that he was somewhat demented.
The author looks at the story of love from many sides and comes up disappointed. The Pharaoh has a striking resemblances to a more modern Messiah who also had to fail in his lifetime. The parallels to he New Testament are striking and wonderfully written. Mahfouz is a religious thinker and writer of the very first rank. He makes you think.
It would help greatly in the understanding of this book to study the historical background of the heretic Pharaoh. I recommend "The Murder of Tutanhamen" by Bob Brier.
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Format: Paperback
In all truth, very little is known and can be asserted as fact surrounding the lives of ancient Egypt's ruling couple, Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Arguably, they may be a pair of history's most elusive figures ... yet, Ahhenaten is the more intriguing of the two.
In trying to tell the story of the Pharoah so little is known about, Mahfouz employs a narrative not unlike that of one of film's most revered projects, CITIZEN KANE: a narrator -- a young man, perhaps a budding scholar -- begins by asking his father about the recently deceased king, and his father suggests that the true story could best be told by those who knew him well ... the surviving members of the royal party. Curiosity propels our narrator to visit a host of Akhenaten's supporters and detractors, ending with a conversation from even the exiled queen, Nefertiti.
However, is it truth ... or is it fiction?
As is the case with KANE, the reader ends up learning more about the psyche of the tale's teller (those who knew Akhenaten best) than we do the late king. The pieces of the puzzle do provide a fascinating look, nonetheless, at Akhenaten. Was he a visionary? Was he a heretic? Was he a scholar and artist, or was he driven to do what he did -- changing the complete worship structure of Egypt to one God instead of many -- out of madness?
A work of excellence by a scholar on the subject, AKHENATEN, DWELLER IN TRUTH is highly recommended for any students of ancient history, archaeology, and perhaps even conspiracies. We may never know all regarding the 'heretic king,' but Mahfouz brings us close enough to believing that we were there.
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By A Customer on September 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
Naguib Mahfouz is one of my favorite writers and, though this tome is not my favorite of his titles, it is, no less intriguing. Mahfouz tackles the controversial historical figure, Pharaoh Akhenaten, by posing the question of his identity and impact on the ancient land, to historical figures of the time.
The chapters of the book, are linked by the narrative of a fictional writer, seeking the 'real story' of Akhenaten. The narrator interviews, Maya, Horemheb, Nakht and several others, including the ignigmatic Queen Nefertiti. Each respondent has a different perspective on the so-called 'heretic king'. Some hate him. Some love him. Many have mixed emotions about the man who, first, selected a god among the pantheon of Egyptian gods, then promoted this god to the position of state god. As time and political events passed, the king came to conceive of his one god as the ultimate, unseen power in the universe. The tales detail the effect this revolutionary concept had on the ancient land. It is obvious that Mahfouz sees Akhenaten as the precursor to the three 'great religions', in that he was the first in recorded history to espouse the concept of one god. The story teller is a master at creating the whole complex picture, from disparate views. He has succeeded again.
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