Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Egyptian

I just finished reading THE EGYPTIAN, by Mika Waltari, a Finnish writer. First published in Finnish in 1943, it was translated and published in the U.S. in 1949. It was the best-selling historical novel up until THE NAME OF THE ROSE by Umberto Eco (first published in 1980, in English in 1983).

The story is about Sinuhe, an Egyptian physician, as well as the pharaoh who tried to establish a monotheistic religion (Akhenatan), Cretan bull dancers, King Tut, Nefertiti, the Hittites... I tell ya, Sinuhe got around. The best part, I thought, was the beginning, where Sinuhe's learning about medicine and rising in pharaoh's court. In fact, it was so interesting in terms of both character and history, I was sure Mika Waltari must have a PhD in Egyptian history.

Nope. Man just did his research.

The latter parts of the book, where Sinhue travels around the Middle East and Crete, weren't quite so interesting, but I still enjoyed it. Sinuhe is a fascinating, very "human" character, and there are a couple of interesting female characters, as well. Kaptah, Sinuhe's slave/best buddy, seems a little over the top (can anybody really talk himself out of so many tough spots?), but he brought the funny, too, which was needed, or the book would have been too grim.

I'd never heard of either the author or this book until I happened upon the Hollywood version, made in 1954, on TV recently. I realized it was some kind of historical film, so I lingered. I first recognized Victor Mature (not an inducement to continue watching.) Then I saw the actor playing the Egyptian, Edmond Purdom. Who is that? thought I, for he was a lot younger and better looking that the picture on the IMDB. And then there was Peter Ustinov, playing Kaptah, and I was hooked. When it was over, I looked it up in our movie guide, saw that it was based on a book, and knew I had to read it.

Since I have Peter Ustinov's autobiography, DEAR ME, I also looked up what he had to say about this movie. Not flattering, to put it mildly. However, he did reveal that Sinuhe was supposed to be played by Marlon Brando, until he saw the final script and suddenly got "sick." That would have been...weird.

The movie left out a lot of the story -- no surprises there. The whole Cretan portion is gone, for instance (and no great loss, IMHO). The fate of the two interesting women was very different as well. I don't think movie audiences in 1953 would have accepted their actions, which basically involved utilizing their sexuality to get out of a terrible predicament in the case of one woman, and to exact revenge in the case of another.

I enjoyed and was impressed enough by THE EGYPTIAN that I wanted to read another of Waltari's historical novels, specifically THE ROMAN. I like reading about Rome. Unfortunately, none of the libraries where I live carried THE ROMAN.

So I bought it. Hardcover. I believe that means I qualify as a fan.


Kimber said...

One reason I could never write historicals, no interest in doing the research (unless its the history of banking or something like that) and no memory to retain what little research I do.

Historical authors always impress me with their knowledge and their love of history. Knowing the right weapon for the right period while wearing the right outfit. Amazing.

Margaret Moore said...

One of the best things about being a writer is being able to claim the research books as a tax deduction. :-)