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The Third Translation Hardcover – April 6, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

This is the latest novel trying to capitalize on the amazing success of The Da Vinci Code by positing an ancient mystery, contemporary scholars, rare documents, greedy collectors, and a quasi-academic protagonist. In this case he's an American Egyptologist living in London who's got less than a week to unlock the secrets of the Stela of Paser, a funerary stone whose references to a "third way" of deciphering the hieroglyphics inscribed on the stone have teased, tempted and eluded would-be translators for centuries.

Walter Rothschild has sacrificed a wife, a child, and many of the other things that make life worth living to pursue a passion cultivated in childhood and encouraged by his own father. Less than a week before his grant runs out and the Stela of Paser returns to its dusty basement in the British Museum, Walter is seduced and drugged by a mysterious young woman who steals a precious document from the Museum; in search of her and the papyrus scroll, Rothschild encounters a cult of would-be mystics who will stop at nothing to get him to decipher the Stela and reveal its secrets--especially those that promise a "third way" between life and death, "the endless quest of the ancient kings." While Walter's efforts are admirable, he is basically a boring, fretful, and regretful man who fails to engage the reader. That's too bad, for otherwise this is a beautifully written, thoroughly researched, and finely detailed novel based somewhat on the author's own obsession with the Stela. But if you share his passion for Egyptology, and want a more learned discourse on its arcana than the Amelia Peabody mysteries provide, The Third Translation is well worth reading. --Jane Adams

From Publishers Weekly

Walter Rothschild, a middle-aged Egyptologist at the British Museum, has abandoned his wife and child to spend his time obsessively poring over the dusty inscriptions of a dead civilization. He is forced to reconnect with life when he is seduced by a mysterious woman who then steals an ancient papyrus containing the key to the enigmatic hieroglyphics of the Stela of Paser. The conspiracy trail leads Walter to a modern-day cult of the Egyptian sun god, Aten, protected by a menacing team of pro wrestlers. In Bondurant's ambitious debut, a sprawling picaresque is infused with mythic resonance by linking it to ancient Egyptian literature and mythology and to concepts in avant-garde physics, including black holes, general relativity and string theory. The author has an inventive imagination and an ardent feel for place; much of the book is a prose poem to London's squalid demimonde. Though some may feel that Bondurant's erudition and philosophical engagement ("the only way... to make sense of the magnitude of the time and the space and the span of humanity on earth is to grasp onto the one thing that gives you a clear look") slow the pace of his mystery, the success of previous literary novels of suspense bodes very well for this one.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; First Edition edition (April 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401301819
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401301811
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,960,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Matt Bondurant's new novel The Night Swimmer (Scribner) will be published in January, 2012. His second novel The Wettest County in the World (Scribner 2008) was a New York Times Editor's Pick, and San Francisco Chronicle Best 50 Books of the Year. His first novel The Third Translation (Hyperion 2005) was an international bestseller, translated into 14 languages worldwide. A former John Gardner Fellow in Fiction at Bread Loaf, Kingsbury Fellow at Florida State, and Walter E. Dakin Fellow at Sewanee, Matt's short fiction has been published in journals such as Prairie Schooner, The New England Review, and Glimmer Train, and he has recently held residencies at Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. He currently lives in Texas. (

Customer Reviews

There's so much writing that does so little to advance the characters and the plot that it makes the book drag and drag.
I am actually ashamed to admit that I finished this book, I just kept thinking 'It has to get better and have a great ending, has too.'
I'm aware that Mr. Bondurant was trying to write a parody/commentary novel about noir novels of the time, but he failed miserably.
Vanessa Sears

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Edward Alexander Gerster VINE VOICE on June 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
It really is unfair to market this novel in any way attached to THE DAVINCI CODE, either good or bad. It really has no similairities which is both good and bad. The plot moves forward well enough, and the scholarship regarding Egyptian mysticism, heiroglyphics and the Stela of Paser are well researched--but the protagonist is neither a hero or anti-hero, in fact he is pretty much the most poorly developed character in the book. And the plot resolution is so empty and open ended to make you question where the author was trying to go. Not a bad novel overall, and I see the author can handle both the heady world of acedemia and the depths of seedy sex and drug culture to equal proportion, yet a bit unsatisfying.
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169 of 195 people found the following review helpful By Lani Carroll VINE VOICE on April 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Maybe I just don't get out much, but I'm really surprised that writing of such abysmal quality actually gets published. There are the repetitions: page 3 - 'hieratic and demotic scripts, which are essentially the shorthand or cursive form of heiroglyphics', page 14 - 'hieratic and demotic scripts, which are essentially the cursive and everyday form of hieroglyphic writing'. (Do publishing houses still have editors on staff? Do editors actually do any work?) There is incorrect grammar. There is some of the most ridiculous, pointless plotting I've ever encountered (the narrator decides he needs to talk to his friend Alan Henry. Alan Henry is not home. The narrator tries, unsuccessfully, to get the super to let him in to his friend's apartment. Finally he uses a chisel to break in. Then nothing happens, the narrator leaves, because, DUHH, his friend is not home. ???? And why is the friend almost always referred to as Alan Henry, instead of Alan? Very weird.) But the real killer for me is the inexorable awfulness of the prose. How about this? '...ever since then it seemed as if the spirit of Zenobia bore down upon me, a puzzling sensation that shifted from bemused tolerance to possible reconciliation to straight vengeance'? The sensation of the spirit of Zenobia bearing down upon him shifts from tolerance to reconciliation etc.? Well, this would puzzle me too. And this isn't to worst of it ... this is just the point at which I decided I'd had as much bad writing as I could take.

It seems to me that perhaps this would have been a perfectly nice first draft for a novel; I just wish someone had whipped it into at least a marginally readable product before I plopped down $22.95 for it.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By C. Mendel on October 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Boy there are some thick folks out there that seem flabbergasted by the loony nature of this book and its situations. I have a word for you to look up: Satire. Or here's another: Comedy. Clearly this book is a send-up of certain genre conventions, a literary novel cloaked in the sheep's clothing of absurdity and the surreal. If you really care by page 200 what the "mystery" of the Stela is then you have really missed the boat. The situations and premise are no more ridiculous than those Bondurant is compared to on the jacket: Bellow, Zadie Smith, J. Lethem - and certainly H. Kurieshi is an influence. That's what I was expecting and that's exactly what I got. Loved it.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Paul Weiss on August 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The Third Translation is not an easy book to like!

Our hero, Walter Rothschild, an Egyptologist at the British Museum, is an ineffectual, pathetic obsessed man, driven only by a passion for his science. Boring and weak, ineffectual as a parent, spouse and lover, indecisive, introverted, fretful and naïve, Walter generates only a vague, disinterested feeling of sympathy in the reader. The plot, on the other hand, at least contains the elements of a story that one might expect should unfold as a thriller! With the help of a powerful cocktail of drugs, alcohol and uninhibited sex, Erin, a beautiful young goth, steals a papyrus from the museum that Walter thinks may contain a vital clue to the translation of the Stela of Paser, a centuries old funerary stone. A rather stumbling investigation leads Walter to the acquaintance of Penelope, a staffer from the British Library, who helps him track the thief into the lair of a modern day Egyptian cult.

Like the earnest, trendy young people who mill about London's arty Soho district where some of Bondurant's tale is based, The Third Translation is much too ardent and takes itself entirely too seriously. Or, at least, that's what I thought at first! But, it was Walter's daughter, Zenobia, indulging in a mouthful of babbling double-speak that made me realize Bondurant was yanking on the chain of London's intelligentsia sub-culture.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Poetvet on April 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For the opposite reasons that I had to toss "The Da Vinci Code" onto the top of my unread pile of poorly written novels, I was happily entranced and engaged by "The Third Translation." In this novel I found all of the things that were missing with Dan Brown's narrative-Bondurant gives you original and human characters, real world sorrow and confusion that one expects in good literature, unsettling and wonderful plot movements, and the confident craft of tension that is seen more often in the works of Chabon and Irving.

Matt Bondurant is a novelist with a long and brilliant career ahead of him-rarely have I picked up a first novel from a new writer and been so impressed with the characters, tension, and craft of the narrative. Unlike the pulp mysteries that "The Third Translation" is compared to, this novel is filled with brave and original characters who challenge us with their particular obsessive behaviors-there is no comparison between the obtuse brilliance of Bondurant's Walter Rothschild and the "Indiana Jones" mimicry of Dan Brown's Robert Langdon. It is a shame that these two novels are even being compared, and it is a disservice to Bondurant's craft that they are mentioned in the same breath. That said, if one enjoys the pressure and tempo of novels like TDVC, I would recommend they take the next step into the realm of literary suspense that Bondurant represents so splendidly.

Bondurant intersperses complicated Egyptology within the constricts of the novel (a difficult task in itself) as the plot runs us through the London underground, the British Museum, Soho, Covent Garden, etc. His adept handling of this monumental task is tempered with the wonderful humor of the novel, not to mention the great pathos he develops for the main characters (not since Ignacious J.
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