Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth
by Naguib Mahfouz
Category: Fiction / Historical
168 pages; ISBN: 0385499094
Rating: 8/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Paul Lappen
Set in ancient Egypt, this is the story of the pharaoh Akhenaten, wose rejection of the Egyptian deities and embrace of monotheism earned him the title "heretic pharaoh."
A man named Meriamun travels past the deserted city of Akhetaten, once the grandest city in all Egypt, and is struck by a strong desire to discover the real story behind the "sun king". He talks to Akhenaten's tutor (and father in law), his chief priest, one of his childhood friends, the head of the army, and even his wife, Nefertiti, among others, each of whom give their own recollections.
Physically, Akhenaten was small, scrawny and rather effeminate looking. He was either a slavering madman who should never have been allowed anywhere near the throne or he was a visionary of the type that comes along once in a lifetime. Growing up, Akhenaten showed no interest in learning the ways of war. Tuthmosis, his older brother, who would have made an excellent pharaoh, died when they were children. His father, and pharaoh, Amenhotep III, sent Akhenaten on a tour of the empire, hoping to make a man out of him. It didn't work. Akhenaten was summoned back to assume the throne on the death of his father.
Akhenaten showed little interest in actually being pharaoh, but his wife, Queen Nefertiti, showed herself to be an expert in running the empire. One day, he heard the voice of the One and Only God, and immediately set out changing the "state religion", getting rid of all traces of the regular deities. His obsession with his religion, to the exclusion of all else, made the outlying provinces easy pickings for invaders. The seat of power had already moved from Thebes to the brand-new city of Akhenaten. As the empire descended into anarchy, Akhenaten continued to insist that faith in his god would prevail.
I really enjoyed this book. It talks about a part of the world and a period in history about which few Westerners know very much. The characters in the book, especially Akhenaten, feel like real people. I found it to be well worth reading.