I am shamefully ignorant of the details of the Egyptian civilization. Sure, I know the names of a handful of Kings and Queens, but if questioned further would know next to nothing about any of their reigns, or even who is related to who. I mean, it’s so confusing. A lot of my confusion has to do with the fact that their names are so similar, and they tended to marry into the family, and because this is really ancient history, even the experts seem divided about how to interpret some of the archaeological artifacts.
So, when I picked up Nefertiti by Michelle Moran, it was with the full knowledge that anything she stated would fly by me. The only knowledge I had about Nefertiti was that she was an Egyptian queen, she was known for her beauty, and my mother has a bust of hers in her house from a trip to Egypt aeons ago.
So, don’t go expecting this book review to analyze the historical minutiae and critique Moran’s accuracy and research skills. You’re not going to get that with this review.
When the natural heir to the throne dies in an unexpected “accident”, Prince Amunhotep (later changed his name to Akhenaten) becomes the heir to the throne. He is a very unsatisfactory heir because he doesn’t believe in the existing way of doing things. He wants to bring in a new monotheistic (one God) religion instead of Egypt’s many Gods. He also wants to curb the power and wealth of the priests.
To sidetrack him from this obsession, the Queen arranges his marriage to beautiful Nefertiti hoping that she will be able to influence him in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the plan falls flat, and the rest of the book deals with how Akhenaten and Nefertiti rule defying all existing norms. The story of their reign is viewed through the eyes of the narrator – Mutnotdjmed or Mutny who is Nefertiti’s sister.
I”ll be honest. This book is not flattering to Akhenaten and Nefertiti at all. They come across as childish, arrogant, and vain. And I’m not quite sure how accurate that portrayal is. He also seems to have been a weak leader who was dominated by his wife.
I am not convinced however. A man who believed in his convictions so much as to change the official religion, stamp all over the power of the priests, does not really reconcile with the portrayal of a man dominated by his wife. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence on the web about his personality and motivations. A lot of what I read on the web made me think Akhenaten might just have been more advanced than his times. Considering that merely a 100 years later, Moses was successfully able to preach a monotheistic religion and lead the exodus of the Jews out of Egypt makes me wonder if he could have been influenced by Akhenaten’s beliefs.
Nefertiti’s portrayal in the book may be unfair, but it is fun to read about – most of the time she is like a spoilt teenager bossing around her younger sister. It’s always fun to read about drama queens, don’t you think?
It’s the narrator Mutny – Nefertiti’s younger sister who is the bore. She comes across as a very good and wise person, but the sections of the book devoted to her life with her husband were really mundane in the extreme. Thankfully, it seems that Moran understood this, and soon brought her back into the heart of the action.
Another aspect I disliked about the book is that it starts a little slow. Time is spent on building the characters, set up, and so on. I liked that detailing. However, the end just seems a bit too rushed. A lot of the politics of the time is rushed through and simplified, and because of all the rush, in the end, I had no strong feelings when Nefertiti dies.
Still, this was a great book to read. It was fairly easy to understand, and I would highly recommend it if you are not too critical about the leaps that Moran takes into the minds of the characters, and the rather flat characterizations. It’s also a great and accessible starting point into early Egyptian history, and I now look forward to reading Moran’s other books on Egyptian history.
I did some googling after reading this book, and I came across this book list on goodreads. I never knew there were so many books on Nefertiti and Akhenaten.
Have you read Nefertiti? What did you think of the book? Do you have any other books on Egyptian history you’d like to recommend?
You can also buy a copy of this book from Amazon.