This novel chronicles the life of the legendary princess, Cleopatra. The story begins in Roman times when she falls in love with a young man from her home province of Egypt, Mark Antony. However, the two do not become a relationship, but rather a budding affair. Things heat up when Mark makes a visit to Egypt, which prompts Cleopatra to remember her past. With many hilarious scenes, including a meeting with Cleopatra’s much younger half-sister, The Valley of the Pharaohs becomes an enjoyable read full of memorable characters.
It is interesting to note that while this novel is set during the reign of Cleopatra, it draws on many ancient cultures. The book is geared towards an adult audience because of its colorful and humorous descriptions of the period. The writing style contains multitudes and the history and culture of Egypt is brought to vivid life through the writing style of Maya Angelou. Although written as a novel, there is some degree of historical truth behind the tales. Egypt was a key political player during the time of the pharaohs.
During her time, Egypt was a strategic location on the eastern seaboard of Africa, providing a sea port for merchants and a land bridge to Asia. Egypt was a formidable land during the era of Alexander the great. The Valley of the Pharaohs was an area in which many battles were fought, including the battle of Marathon. I enjoyed reading the account of Cleopatra’s life, especially the portions relating to her marriage to Marc Antony. The dynamic Antony is thrust into the center of the action, fighting not only for his life but for the entirety of Egypt.
Alexandria is also key, with the rise and fall of the Roman legions. This book is an interesting tale filled with political and archaeological context. The book concludes with a look at the life of Alexander the great. This is followed by a detailed look at Cleopatra’s final years, her eventual death and the secret funeral ritual that surrounded her burial. The details are sometimes unclear, but this book provides insight into the political circumstances surrounding the pharaohs.
The Valley of the Pharaohs was published just prior to the 50th anniversary of the great pyramids of Giza. It will be interesting to see how this book continues to be studied over the next several years. In addition, it will be interesting to see whether any of its insights into ancient history compare with more current scholarship. For example, many scholars have argued that Cleopatra’s life and legacy lives on in fragments of literary art and statues.
This is a book that is well worth reading. However, it is also a book that can be difficult to read. The author makes the point that, even if we do not accept all her conclusions, she remains an extremely influential figure in ancient history. Those who read the book with an open mind will certainly gain a new understanding of the turbulent events that shaped much of human history. However, those who are already interested in the region of ancient history will probably feel a particular interest in The Valley of the Pharaohs.
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