175 of 179 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2003
Mika Waltari's "The Egyptian" tells us the story of one physician of ancient Egypt, Sinuhe, set against the background of the reign of the fourth pharaoh Amenhotep, whose attempt to impose monotheism on his polytheistic country was one of the strangest and most fascinating experiments of early civilization. Sinuhe is a foundling, adopted by a lowly physician, and in the tradition of ancient times, trained to follow in his adopted father's footsteps, coming of age at the same time a decisive event is about to take place: the death of the reigning pharaoh, Amenhotep III, around 1380 BC, and the accession of his son, Amenhotep IV, who styled himself Akhenaton.
Sinuhe is a loner and a wanderer, whose self-imposed exile from his native country takes him to Syria, the ancient Hittite kingdom of Hatti, and Crete, before finally returning to Egypt, at the same time that Akhenaton attempts to overthrow the reigning god Ammon and his priests, and install his own vision, Aton, the one and eternal god, in Ammon's place. As a political move, trimming Ammon's power in Egypt may have been a wise idea; the priests' power had grown so great that it was challenging that of pharaoh himself. But as a religious experiment it was a disaster, especially in a country as rigidly conservative as ancient Egypt where change of any kind was anathema. We see Akhenaton as a visionary out of touch with reality and with his people, a tragic figure doomed to failure. And we share Sinuhe's ambivalence about this enigmatic figure, intrigued by pharaoh's vision of one just god who brings equality to all mankind, but repelled by the spreading social chaos this vision brings with it, especially when it threatens his own security and the lives of those he loves.
Waltari bring us some of the people that have only existed in the pages of history books -- Akhenaton himself, his incredibly beautiful wife Nefertiti, his scheming, conniving mother Queen Taia, the boy king Tut, and Horemheb, the military general who became pharaoh after Akhenaton's death plunged the country into near anarchy. But "The Egyptian" fortunately doesn't read like a history textbook; Waltari makes ancient Egypt and his characters come vibrantly alive. And Sinuhe himself is wholly believable; a man of his own time and all time, sometimes wise, sometimes foolish in the extreme, trying to find his own place in his world, sometimes succeeding and sometimes not. Waltari is not only a great novelist but a fine historian, and he kept the background scrupulously accurate. The book is true to its time and its location, and Naomi Walford's excellent translation into English keeps the reader moving along effortlessly from the first page to the last. "The Egyptian" is Waltari's masterpiece; it's one of the best historical novels ever written.
63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 1998
If one reads no other novel by a Finn, one must read Waltari's "The Egyptian." It is arguably the greatest work of Finnish literature in much the same way that Dvorak's New World Symphony is arguably the greatest work of Czech music. Each brings a national influence to what has essentially been an international masterpiece from its very inception. An American bestseller for a period after its first publication in English, The Egyptian has remained stubbornly popular throughout Europe with every new generation of literate readers.
Mika Waltari was a prolific and versatile writer whose historical fiction, of which The Egyptian is the premiere and defining opus, treats the great turning points of world history with a voice and perspective that bring to mind the sweep of a James Michener, the gently ironic familiarity of a Mark Twain, and the authorial presence of a William Faulkner.
The Egyptian ostensibly relates the autobiography of Sinuhe, a baby boy found in a basket among bullrushes who rises to become a doctor and advisor to pharaohs, during the coming of age and regency of the pharaoh Ekhnaton, who attempted to overturn established religions and replace them with a new one worshiping a new god. (Waltari contrives to make this element of the plot vaguely suggestive of the birth of Christianity more than a millennium later.) Through his travails and his travels, Sinuhe meets people of all stations of life in many areas of Egypt and its neighboring countries, informing us on many details both grand and minute of ancient Egyptian life and history.
But the true genius of The Egyptian is that it is really not about Egypt or ancient times at all. Rather it is about every nation and every civilization, every people in every time in every place of the world. It is about each of us readers, the joys and sorrows of our own lives, and about the social and governmental institutions to which we find ourselves subject. He records with dispassionate clarity the entire spectrum of human and social behavior, from the most exalted of aspirations, emotions, and deeds to the most debased, in himself as unflinchingly as in others. Whoever we are, wherever and whenever we live, we cannot help but recognize ourselves and our own times.
Most endearing of all is the voice in which Sinuhe addresses us. By turns grave and common, earnest and witty, naïve and sly, it cannot be captured in a brief review. However, this personal translation from Finnish of the opening paragraph may provide a taste:
"I, Sinuhe, son of Senmut and his wife Kipa, am the author of this work. I write not to glorify the gods, for I am weary of gods. I write not to glorify pharaohs, for I am weary of pharaohs' deeds. Rather for my own sake do I write this. Not to flatter gods, nor to flatter kings, nor out of fear, nor out of hope for the future. For I have experienced and lost much in the years of my life, and am untroubled by trivial fears; and I am weary of the hope of immortality, as I am weary of gods and kings. Only for my own sake do I write this, and in that respect I believe that I am different from all other writers past and future." [Paragraph excerpted and translated under fair usage provision of international copyright law for the purpose of literary review.]
If I could carry with me through life only a single novel as an enduring source of inspiration and sound perspective, I would mourn the loss of many others - but I would choose The Egyptian.
61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2004
The Egyptian set in the Amarna period of Ancient Egypt during the reigns of the pharaohs Amunhotep III, Akhenaten and Horemheb, covering the concluding years of the 18th dynasty of the New Kingdom (1386 - 1293 BC), an ear in Egyptian history that was marked by significant religious and political upheaval. The Egyptian is Sinuhe, a physician of unknown birth origin who was wrapped and cradled in a reed boat floating down the Nile. As he narrates his life story, which transcended years of warfare, plague, and fierce battle between gods. On the outside The Egyptian delineates the history of Egypt through its inveterate religious devotion to many gods. At the core of the novel finds one man's lifelong journey through many countries, like Babylon, Crete, and Mitannia, to knowledge. Sinehu possessed such lonely idealism that motivated him to devote his life searching for something so intangible yet greater than he beyond his understanding did. He was not ready to merely worshipping the gods - in fact, he insisted on questioning traditions and thus marked him as an outsider of his own culture.
The spine of the novel concerns the ferocious contention between Aton and the Ammon. Pharoach Akhenaten sought to disestablish the old gods with a relatively unknown deity called the Aton as the Ammon, the present godly sponsor, had accumulated so much wealth and power that the Ammon priests began to rival to that of the Pharoach. In order to achieve balance of power between Ammon and the throne, Akhenaten deposed the ancient gods and established Aton as a new state divinity. No sooner had Akhenaten adopted the new deity than Sinuhe ineluctably became entangled in conflict between tradition and innovation. Sinuhe must choose between the way of the heretic Pharoach and the old corrupt system that had blinded many and robbed the freedom of Egyptians.
Miki Waltari deftly uses a prose style evocative of ancient texts that is comparable to Naguib Mahfouz's work in modern Egyptian literature. Unlike Mahfouz, Waltari's book is the first major novel set in ancient Egypt during the 18th dynasty of the New Kingdom in 14th century BC The Egyptian, comibing history, research and imagination, is a timeless re-creation of such largely forgotten era over a prodigious interval of time. The book captures the nuances of war, intrigue, power struggle, wassail, romance, horror, and lavish scnenes of violence. From Sinuhe's intransigence to worshipping false gods springs forth a tale of death and love, man's corruption, cruelty, and lust for power and the warfare between two value systems and religions that amazingly reflect our world today.
2004 (19) © MY
44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2011
I am not going to review the movie, that has already been done. This review is about the Blu-Ray disc. Anyone who is a fan of this movie and has a HDTV/Blu-Ray setup needs to get this disc. Yes, the price is higher than most Blu-Ray releases, but it is well worth it. That is if superior picture quality (1080p) and superior sound quality (DTS 5.1) is important. The transfer is also in the original CinemasScope aspect ratio of 2.55, before CinemaScope went to 2.35 to make room for the duel Mag/Optical soundtracks on the film.
I was a little concerned at first, especially since the video resolution of 1080p and the type of 5.1 sound (DTS), was not included in the product discription. But I am glad I went ahead with the order anyway. I have been waiting a long time for a blu-ray release of "The Egyptian" and it has been worth the wait and the price.
It looked great in my home theater which is equipped with a 92" diag. screen,(which gives me a wall to wall picture presentation) 1080p front projector and 7.1 surround sound system. From the Fox/Cinemascope logo to the ending credits, this movie was great entertainment. If you enjoy the Fox "Sword and Sandle" series (ie. "The Robe"), include "The Egyptian", you won't be disappointed.
76 of 83 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2008
Not one of Michael Curtiz' best films, "The Egyptian" is seen here in a serviceable print (and in widescreen) but somehow this transfer doesn't ring any bells. The film itself is a static, sometimes involving historical epic, and the cast is good. Edmund Purdom is fine (despite bad reviews at the time) and he's capably supported by Gene Tierney, Victor Mature, Jean Simmons, and Michael Wilding. But Daryll Zanuck discovery (and mistress) Bella Darvi, as the evil temptress, is a liability. Zanuck wanted Marlene Dietrich to play the sensual siren who leads Purdom astray--and though she might have been too old at the time, she'd at least have delivered her lines with some conviction and style. The film is slow at times, but it picks up in the last act, and is often affecting, despite the limitations of the script and direction. Other reviewers have stated they couldn't turn off the Korean subtitles: I had the same trouble, and I found them distracting. Chances are this film will be released someday in a restored print. I'd suggest hardcore fans wait for that edition, when it arrives. ADDENDUM: Looks as if "The Egyptian" has been released in a Blu-Ray format and is available on Amazon, but as of this writing (September, 2014) the prices are very high (over a hundred for the Blu-Ray and in the high fifties for standard DVD). Word is that the prints are stunning, but the cost is prohibitive for those who don't like to overspend. I'll update this again, if I see the cost come down to something reasonable and accessible to the average Amazon purchaser.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2004
I first read The Egyptian when I was 14 and just beginning to understand the beauty of more complex books. The first chapters didn't appear very interesting to me, but as I continued reading, I suddenly realized I had been swooped into an amazingly realistic ancient world full of excitement, sorrow, wisdom and more. The whole experience was memorable since it's been very few times when a story I've been reading has felt as incredibly real as Sinuhe's story did. The Egyptian jumped right on the top of my list of best books.
Mika Waltari truly is the most skillful writer I know - where he learned it, I have no idea. His books, especially The Egyptian, have something that appeal to all kinds of people from all over the world. Perhaps it's the art of describing the feelings that each human being experiences sooner or later, and the way he is able to make a story from ancient Egypt seem like it could happen even today. People don't change, only their surroundings do.
The Egyptian is a wonderful and sad story. Especially recommended to everyone who likes history, but I really think that it's a great book for everyone who's interested in mankind - and in particularly good stories.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2006
Fifty years ago, my High School english teacher asked the class to write an essay on a favorite book. I chose to write about Mika Waltari's "The Egyptian." I started my essay with the opening sentence from the book. That sentence still resonates with me today and I still can recite the opening paragraph by heart. I have read many books in the years since that High School assignment, and "The Egyptian" still holds a special place in my heart. It remains a favorite. I highly recommend this book as one in which the reader can be carried along by a wonderful story told by a consumate writer. The universal question of what in this life really matters is skillfully explored. People who have seen the awful movie adaptation may shy away from the novel. Don't. If you like to become totally engrossed in a compelling story, you will be hard pressed to find a better book. If you have an interest in ancient Egypt (which is not necessary for enjoyment), you will be absolutely blown away by the meticulous research behind the narrative. "The Egyptian" was a huge success when it was first published, and is a real classic that deserves to be read from generation to generation.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2006
I remembered seeing this film as a young person over a half a century ago and decided it was time to read it. I am a fan of historical fiction, but would certainly not limit my recommendation to read this book only to those who love the historical genre. This book belongs in the collection of every serious reader. The book flows smoothly from start to finish and leaves no doubt in the readers mind why Mr. Waltari is considered one of the great Finnish writers and why this book was the number one international best-seller in 1949.
Set in 14th century BCE Egypt, it is a fascinating tale of a man pulled from the Nile in a small reed boat as a baby -- and this is not the only similarity to incidents found in the Bible -- who ultimately becomes Paraoh's personal physician. This is the era when Egypt and its ruler Ahkenaton experimented with monotheism and Waltari's narrative weaves its magic around the theological turmoil that resulted from a nation unsure of its very culture.
More specifically, however, The Egyptian tells the tale of Sinuhe the physician who travels the extent of the then known world in search of himself. Despite the loyalty of his personal servant Kaptah, despite his friendship with Pharaoh and his boyhood friend Horemheb who rises to generalship, and despite his physical and emotional relationships with a number of intriguing women, Sinuhe leads a lonely life. That loneliness is set in motion by a mother who abandoned him at birth and cuts him to the heart and follows him for the rest of his life following three separate nights with a woman of pleasure that cost him dearly. You must read this book to understand why.
Waltari's research is complete, but the strength of the book is the story itself complemented with strong and superb character development.
Even a casual reader would find great satisfaction in this book, but the serious reader will feel fulfilled when he has read the final page. Five stars is not enough.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2003
As a Finn I feel slight guilt over not having read Waltari at all before 2003. Prejudiced towards his era's Finnish authors or just against his name which for some peculiar reason represented something for "old generation" and boring, unenthusiastic way of story telling (who can claim Kalle Päätalo doesn't sound like a boring author too..). I read couple of his earlier works which haven't been translated into other languages I think and after those I was convinced that prejudice had ecclipsed the masteful story telling abilities of Mika Waltari. The Egyptian is the third Waltari book I have read. Doctor in ancient Egypt?? Written by a Finn and gotten huge success all over the world? Somewhat uncommon framework for a book and I had no idea what to expect. I did some cautious non-spoiling background digging in order to establish some sort of an idea of the book. I learned that egyptologists consider the book amazingly accurate description of the culture in that era and that Waltari had done his Egypt + surrouding areas research very well but had never visited Egypt. It is said that he didn't make notes about the facts but just remembered and understood the essence and wrote the book.
I found the story telling captivating and humour embedded in especially Kaptah's long monoloques in a dialoque with Sinuhe were hilarious. Yet this story has a lot of philosophical pondering which always fits the storyline and doesn't seem separate from the story. Hence a combination of things that make one stop to think and digest every once in a while and the entertaining and uplifting humour and tragicomedy. Simplicity and complexity of characters, cunning manipulation and clever psychology all coats the story with even more interesting aspects not to mention the adventure Sinuhe and Kaptah go through. I found the book good from page 1 all the way to the final page. What more can one want from a book?
The Egyptian has many scenes which underline the cruelty, ruthlessness, power of love, loyality and the power of fear. All these are exhibited as extremes at some point in the book. Made in 1945 after second world war had it is rather easy to understand the certain pessimism throughout the book and distrust in people's ability to change and peacefully co-exist. Waltari shows how humanity often escapes in horror when war becomes intense. Book has a lot of descriptions of vileness, ultimate cruelty, torture and complete ignorance towards human life. Waltari also brings out the concept of loyality in very extreme forms. Some female characters in this book are almost exclusively somewhat detrimental for men's mental sanity. Nefernefernefer has not only a catchy name but is also a prime example of deceiving woman whose limitless power is in her beauty and manipulation omnipotence! While she draws all will-power away from Sinuhe and seals his fate in many ways at the beginning of the book, she gets a payback later from Sinuhe but gets still the last laugh in a way that one can only smile at in disbelief.
No need for details. Just give this book a chance and you may find yourself quite immersed in it.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2008
This is one of the great epics... though for Fox was not a great box-office success at the time. On the DVD itself - it is sad that 20th Century Fox seemed to have forgotten about their own DVD release and it is long overdue to those that still enjoy these old movies.
This import DVD edition has lost some of its superb color and sound in its transfer - that a movie like this requires - but at least it is an opportunity to enjoy a marvellous film - though not historically accurate in any way. It is a wonderful classic with a familiar stable of classic stars of that time. At a good price, worth having if you can't hold out for Fox themselves to release it on DVD.