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The General's Wife Kindle Edition
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This is allegedly the tale of a “noble” Athenian girl sent to Egypt to marry Ptolemy II’s “best general.” The fact that this general’s name is Alistair, allegedly meaning “the avenger” in Greek literally produced an enormous eye-roll. The quote from the book: “Alistair,” she tested the familiar Grecian name for avenger on her lips.” Alistair is the pure Gaelic derivative, centuries later, of the Greek Alexandros. But kudos to the author for completely misinterpreting this gem from the ubiquitous internet book of baby names. There is the usual trope about a childhood love left behind, a foreign land/culture/language to become accustomed to, and the pitfalls of an arranged marriage. Nothing, in other words, that we haven’t seen before in countless books. A skillful writer who has done proper research and thus has a true feel and understanding of the period and its landscape and customs can use this rather hackneyed plot and give it some sparkle. But that is definitely not the case here.
The author believes Hellenistic/Ptolemaic Egypt, and Athens to a lesser extent, is overlaid with some bizarre mantle of English aristocratic customs. Hence the heroine, Ismene, is the privileged daughter of a prominent Athenian aristocrat who takes her along, at quite a young age, to meet and greet other important aristocrats and heads of state. Ismene’s servant, variously referred to as her “handmaid” or, more amusingly, as her “lady-in-waiting,” calls her “milady.” My personal favorite, however, is when Ismene is introduced to Ptolemy II as “the Lady Ismene Gina of Athens, Greece.” Gina? Really?? Folks, I simply can’t make this stuff up.
During the Ptolemaic era, Greek and Egyptian laws and customs existed side by side, with little differentiation between which was preeminent. Thus the constant nattering on about “foreign customs” and the difficulty of learning the language, and so forth and so on have no basis in historical fact. As an Athenian, Ismene would fit right in. Additionally, her husband, the improbably-named Alistair, was also as much Greek as Egyptian, so there is no need for culture shock here. Of course, one has to understand the history first…
The interactions between Ismene and her husband-to-be, members of the pharaonic court, and just about everyone else in Alexandria, circa 283 BC, are convoluted, farfetched, and stunningly inaccurate. Servants are introduced by name as if they were social equals, conversations between Ismene and her bridegroom are painfully---and hilariously—21st century YA-speak, and the alleged antics of the pharaoh are clearly beyond the pale. No grasp of the Hellenistic/Ptolemaic political and social worlds present in Alexandria here. None.
It is also a mystery to me how anyone can write about the splendid city of Alexandria and get it wrong. In the first place, our intrepid heroine arrives in a carriage after a lengthy journey through the desert, where she is amazed by the sight of a pyramid. Readers with a clue will know what’s wrong here. If Ismene is from a wealthy, aristocratic Athenian family, she would have sailed from Piraeus to Alexandria, and been transported from the ship by litter to her destination. And there are no pyramids in or around Alexandria. Ismene comments on the large houses made of bricks belonging to merchants and the middle classes. No bricks, people, but dressed stones, usually limestone from quarries. No concept of middle classes, either.
All right, I’m done. You get my point, so I won’t waste any more time on dissecting this awful book. There are obviously readers who care only for a sweet story set in another time and place, and who simply don’t care that the time and place are riddled with inaccuracies and anachronisms.
That’s fine with me. But I am not one of them.
Unfortunately not everyone likes having Greeks in Egypt. Ismene's marriage is taking place in an unstable time. Alistair is often away on army business, but when he's home he isn't as bad as she initially thought. He treats her well and Ismene has access to every luxury she can think of. Will she ever fall in love with her husband? And what will happen when the mob and other rebels are after them at the same time? Will Alistair be able to stop them before they can do something really terrible?
Ismene has to move from Greece to Egypt. The only loyal company she has is her servant. She had to leave everyone else behind. Marrying for love isn't what her father has planned for her and she has no choice but to travel to Egypt and make the best of her arranged marriage. I admired her strength and flexibility. Ismene is beautiful on the outside and the inside. She's also headstrong and she doesn't trust easily. She's an intriguing main character with a praiseworthy personality.
Alistair is a proud man with a kind heart. He does everything he can to make Ismene's life as comfortable as possible. When he's hurt he can lash out, but most of the time he's friendly and caring. I liked him and Ismene together from the start. They have great chemistry and I loved the suggestive way Sara R. Turnquist writes about that without ever becoming too literal. She does that in a clever and fun manner. The interaction between Alistair and Ismene is interesting and I couldn't wait to find out if they were going to be happy with their arranged marriage or not.
Sara R. Turnquist begins with a brief history of Greece and Egypt in the time she's set her story. It's a clever way to make it easier for the reader to picture the setting and the society she's writing about. It's handy to have some background information, especially for the continuity of the story, I didn't have to stop reading to look things up. Sara R. Turnquist shows that true love is something of all times, which is an important message. I'm a big fan of books about that topic and definitely enjoyed this one.
The General's Wife has several unexpected twists and turns and I could see the creativity of the author in every scene. The result is a surprising story. I enjoyed reading about Ismene's life very much. When she arrives in Egypt there's unrest. The emotional turmoil inside her is causing a lot of stress, but she deals with it as well as she can. It was fascinating to see her reactions together with the feelings of her husband about the same situations. I loved the multiple layers of the story and think The General's Wife is a wonderful, original and romantic book.
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