Author: John Oehler
Genre: Suspense, Historical Fiction
Length: 326 pages
I’ve wanted to read this book since the second I saw its cover. Mainly because John Oehler wrote it and I really enjoy his writing. I read and reviewed Aphrodesia awhile back and I swear I blushed for a month, so I knew Oehler’s writing was phenomenal. Add my obsession for all things Egyptian, and I was completely sold.
Many times this level of anticipation won’t work out well for a reader. There’s too much pressure on the book. How could it possibly live up?
Papyrus took my expectations in stride and out did itself.
Historical fiction all the way, there are still two different timelines – the ancient past (the 18th Dynasty of Egypt) and the not so ancient past (1977, during the war between Eritrea and Ethiopa). I enjoyed the banter and flirtation between these timelines and the story. It was woven together well and never missed a beat or left the reader feeling out of sorts with the rhythm of the tale.
In 1977, Oehler’s Rika Teferi is both a scholar and a warrior of Eritrea. This was an attribute so enticing for my black belt and book nerdy self that I spent two hours in a local Starbucks devouring this book instead of watching the Broncos beat the Patriots on Sunday. I loved her for her strength, her beauty, and ultimately for her intelligence.
Dive into ancient Egypt and Queen Tiye is completely riveting, especially since most my academic studies have focused on Hatshepsut and Nefertiti. It was refreshing to have Akhenaten’s mother be the focus, as I don’t think she is as common a fictional pursuit as other Eqyptian Queens. (The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Pauline Gedge’s The Twelfth Transforming – also stellar writing, but I was apparently so disappointed with the story it seems I have given that title away.) I do not own any nonfiction work devoted primarily to Tiye either, but Oehler’s version of her offered a pretty tempting reason to go find some.
As always Oehler handles the story arch with such grace and ease – I am jealous. He writes stories where things happen. Not just anything, but powerful and exciting things. Foreign countries, different times, bombs, planes, diplomats, ancient manuscripts, tombs, revolutionaries, romance…! His books are award winners with good reason and he is one of Houston’s best kept secrets. It is amazing to me that this was Oehler’s first novel.
I have a tendency to bounce from book to book. I read a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Many times I sit and read one book in one sitting, but all the books that don’t get read with such vigor are subject to months on end of a chapter here and a chapter there.
Today, I polished off Cassandra Clare’s City of Lost Souls, and while the kiddo napped sat down with a pile of my ‘bouncing’ books. I started by picking up Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Ancient World. I read a few chapters of this throughout the week, and plan to have it completed by the end of the year so that I can spend 2013 reading the sequel The History of the Medieval World. Bauer provides excellent histories, educational guides, and other lovely lists, and at any given time there is something written by her sitting on my coffee table with a bookmark or post it note precariously shoved in its pages.
After 30 minutes or so with Bauer, I meandered over to my lit crit shelf and plucked up a copy of The Bookaholics’ Guide to Book Blogs. As I am a book blogger, you can only guess why this one moved me at the bookstore. Today of all days, I chose to read it because the bookmark for The History of the Ancient World was in fact the Half Price Books receipt that I received upon its purchase. My slightly unfocused brain had begun to peruse the receipt when I decided I was done with history for the day and spotted a ‘Bookaholics’ Guide to Book’ item for which I paid 80 cents. Of course, this piqued my interest and was the initial cause for drifting over to the lit crit shelf.
The Bookaholics’ Guide is lovely and when I am finished reading it, I shall post a full review worthy of a book dedicated to praising book reviewers. But for now, though entirely riveted and already 50 pages in – I am also distracted. Why? Because while reading about all these wonderful blogs and their dedication to their reading and writing and reviewing, there is a portion entirely devoted to the discussion of how tragedies always seem to win over comedies. That got my brain thinking back to the lovely Susan Wise Bauer and the list of novels she provides in The Well-Educated Mind, of which I am approximately six novels away from completing – Finally!
So of course, in my blasted book bouncing fashion, I pick up the book I am currently reading on the list: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I read Chapter One the other day and immediately texted my kindergarten best friend who was an African-American Studies major during her undergrad years, that so far I loved it. (Because unfortunately, I hated reading Native Son by Richard Wright, despite the great skill involved in his story telling, and have been feeling incredibly guilty about it.) Of course, in the midst of being made painfully aware of the sad fact that as a human race we are enraptured by tragedies, I became engrossed in Chapter Two of Invisible Man and nearly died of the overwhelming coincidence.
If you have not read Invisible Man, I suggest you read no further. Unless, you are of the variety of readers who don’t care about spoilers, and then I may cheerfully say, read on.
Chapter Two includes the lengthy tale of Jim Trueblood, a man who has fathered a child with his wife as well as his own grandchild with his daughter in roughly the same time period. I have not yet read beyond Chapter Two, therefore cannot share with you the relevance to the Invisible Man’s story, or the book as a whole, but I can say that I felt ill after reading it.
Poor, oh poor Jim Trueblood (I say with intense sarcasm), who rolled over on his daughter while sleeping and having an odd dream, inserting his penis into her and *accidentally* fathered her child – to everyone’s horror.
Of course, I must read on to discover the significance of it all. But I really don’t want to.
1. If your daughter is that old, she should not be sleeping between her two parents. I don’t care how poor you are. Put the child on the other side of the mother. That’s just common sense. What teenaged daughter wants to sleep between her two parents anyway?
2. I don’t know if I’m supposed to believe Jim Trueblood at this point or not, but I’m with the protagonist on this one – why the hell did Jim Trueblood get a hundred-dollar bill for knocking up his own daughter!? Its absurd. I have a hard time believing that people behave(d) this way.
3. I have a hard time buying this story in the light of the symbolism it supposedly represents: http://students.cis.uab.edu/archived/dlam/Jim%20Trueblood.html, but I look forward to seeing if the rest of the novel makes these proposals more clear. I’ve a huge soft spot for The Great Gatsby and The Natural, so you can imagine how much I adore symbolism.
4. So far, the only African-American/ Black (depending on your version of what is politically correct) fiction that I have ever truly appreciated in my entire life has been the young adult Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry series by Mildred D. Taylor and ZZ Packer’s Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, which also manages to be my all-time favorite collection of short stories ever. (I am always on the look out for something spectacular, though, so please, leave suggestions in the comment area!)
You see, the thing is, I hate reading a book and feeling like the sole purpose is to make me pity the protagonist. Mostly, because I think pity is the ultimate form of disrespect. Why would I want to read a character that I have no respect for? No matter how under the dog, one should not pity the protagonist nor hate them. One shouldn’t see them as less than themselves. I want to read about a fight for equality with some umph. I want to see them prevail over adversity, not wallow in their plight. The things I disliked about Native Son are the same things I disliked about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, drastically different books that don’t belong anywhere near each other in a bookstore, but they managed to give me the same level of frustration. One wallows in the errors of his situation and falls deeper and deeper into despair and ignorance, while the other wallows in the errors her life choices and falls deeper and deeper into entitlement. Both seem to ask me to feel sorry for their nature.
These are the views the politically correct call me racist over, but I assure you that I have great respect for people of every color, culture, generation, and walk of life. Sometimes, I wish they had a little more respect for themselves. Just remember, never fight the good fight with a plea for pity – its a huge turn off.
Granted, I have only just finished Chapter Two… there is yet more to the story to discover. I hope it lives up to its classic reputation. I don’t want my distaste for unrelated titles to taint my views as I read this work.