Thursday, April 3, 2008
Nefertiti by Michelle Moran
NEFERTITI, Michelle Moran, Crown, 2007, $24.95 USD, hardcover, 480 pages, ISBN: 978-0307381460
Greed, murder, betrayal, and palace intrigue abound as Nefertiti, one of Egypt’s most enigmatic queens, comes to life again. Seen through the eyes of her younger sister Mutnodjmet, Nefertiti is the favored daughter of a powerful vizier, destined to wed the next Pharaoh of Egypt. When the favored crown prince dies suspiciously, Nefertiti marries his unstable, obsessive brother Amunhotep, later known as the Pharaoh Akhenaten. As her husband devolves into suspicion and madness, various factions of the court pin their hopes on Nefertiti to control Pharaoh and guide Egypt’s future.
Pharaoh’s heretical desire to raise a new son god, the Aten, above all others soon plunges the country into chaos. He destroys centuries of religious tradition, closing the temples to all other gods and establishing the Aten as supreme. Nefertiti encourages her husband’s prideful foolishness, so long as it keeps her and her family in control. When the royals establish a glittering new court at Amarna, the on-going rivalry between Nefertiti and Pharaoh’s second wife, Kiya grows dangerous. Nefertiti tries in vain to produce a son. With priests, ministers and the military vying to exert control over Pharaoh, the only person whom Nefertiti can consistently rely on for the truth is her sister Mutnodjmet. However, Mutnodjmet finds her loyalty often tested by Nefertiti’s determination and the desires of her own heart.
Ms. Moran skillfully weaves a tale of Egypt’s iconic queen, known worldwide as an ideal of feminine beauty. Nefertiti remains as enigmatic today as she seemed when Egyptologists discovered her limestone bust, now housed in Berlin’s Altes Museum. The narrator permits the reader inside Nefertiti’s world, to explore the complexity of her character. Nefertiti inspires sympathy and dislike in turns. The pawn of her powerful family, their machinations force her into marriage to a deluded tyrant. Yet, Nefertiti retains unrealistic expectations of her younger sister and manipulates those whom she claims to love.
Ms. Moran’s portrayal of the Amarna period is not without some controversy. The family tree indicates Mutnodjmet as mother to Nefertari, chief queen of Ramses the Great. It does not show Mutnodjmet as the eventual wife of the Pharaoh Horemheb. Mutnodjmet also raises Kiya’s son Tutankhamen although Nefertiti was Kiya’s greatest rival. The lack of a complete record of Nefertiti’s influence has fueled centuries of speculation and theories. However, Ms. Moran fills in the gaps of history with such creative skill that most minor distortions do not detract from her flowing narrative or compelling characters. Nefertiti remains an entertaining read throughout.