Monday, August 10, 2015

Julie Bettendorf Presents Fascinating Historical Novel, Luxor: Book of Past Lives...

1324 B.C.
The large white ibis floated languidly on the smooth surface of the Nile, its feathers, silhouetted brilliantly by the morning sun. The bird stabbed his long, slender beak down underneath his wing, to scratch an early morning irritation.
A dusky brow ox walked down to the water's edge, his ears flipping valiantly at the flies already beginning to gather for their daily feast on his blood...
It was very early morning, and yet it seemed no one was sleeping. All life along the Nile was in an eternal race to start the day before being beaten down by the merciless sun.
Karnak Temple, the Ipet Isut, that most esteemed of places stood out from the simple scene, its many decorated columns standing as silent sentinels over the people walking underneath them. It is the largest religious house known in the world, upon which the mount of creation began.

...It is the second month of the great Nile flood, Akhet, the time of the inundation. Waset is preparing for the Beautiful Festival of the Opet, and the romantic scent of the lotus blossoms float in gentle currents of warm air. The sound of a woman's laughter punctuates the silence as she drops her basket of pomegranate fruit.
Ipet Isue is full of workmen busily preparing for the sacred procession from Ipet Isue to the Sanctuary of the Southern Opet and back again... These ceremonial boats will hold the golden effigies of the triad of gods, Amun-Ra, the most powerful god of the sun, and his wife Mut, and their child, Khonsu...
The festival will be a symbol of the bond between Tutankhamun and the gods. So important is the Opet festival, that Tutankhamun has commanded the festival to be lengthened from eleven days to twenty-seven, in honor of his alliance with Amun-Ra...

Luxor: Book of Past Lives

By Julie Bettendorf

Julie Bettendorf has taken her readers traveling before--to Egypt and to France with Anthony Ant! If you haven't checked out her children's books, click over to my reviews before you leave...

This time, however, the author who is a world traveler with a background in history and a degree in archaeology, has written an adult story of ancient history, based upon the the Lives of those who lived in Egypt during two time periods--first in 1324 BC and then in 1874 AD. Bettendorf has chosen to write about the everyday ancient man, but in this story, they are all involved in the fascinating business of...death... Not how they died...but how they prepared their dead for the afterlife... or later destroyed their tombs...

There was no doubt in the minds of ancient Egyptians that there was life after death. The entire process of preparing for death, especially for the pharaohs, who were considered almost gods with a connection to the gods that they worshiped, Amun-Ra, being the most powerful god of the sun. There was no real discrimination regarding the process itself--only the location and the after-life preparations for specific individuals, mostly based upon wealth of that individual.

Nebamun held the pages of bound papyrus,
known as the Book of Coming Forth by Day
protectively in his hands. It was the book given
to him by his uncle, and passed down from his
family of priests, all the back back to when it
first came in to being. As he opened the
ancient pages, the sweet smell of lutus wafted
into the embalming tent.
"Nastra, thou and thy daughter, Amunet shall
reap the eternal harvest from the fields of
Iaru, and from the fields of paradise that shall
be nourished forever."
There are two main male characters for each of the time periods. The irony of it is that the two living in 1324 are priests who prepared the dead...

While the two in 1874 are grave robbers, desecrating the bodies and stealing anything of value that were placed with the bodies of the deceased...

Such a tragedy...

"Whom shall they be called?" the high priest asked, pointing to the lifeless woman and small girl lying on the embalming table. The high priest, Nebamun, rubbed his bald head with lotue oil, in preparation for the mummification rites.
He was a tall, striking man with large black eyes, black as the underworld, made ever larger and blacker by a masterful application of black mesdemet powder eyeliner. His solid chin made him look fierce, but there was softness about his smily which revealed his true nature. He was a kind, just man, and he was chosen when he was a small boy to be taught the rites of Anubis.
He picked up the heavy black mask and
noted with satisfaction the beautiful gold
work on the eyes, and edges of the ears. It
seemed alive. He felt comforted by the
exquisite costume, to be worn to honor
woman and her daughter.
Today, Nebamun would become Anubis, the jackal- headed god, he who is in the place of embalming, the god of mummification and guardian of the dead. He would preside over the forty day ceremony of cleaning, embalming and drying out ot eh bodies. After the bodies were completely desiccated, they would be wrapped completely in many lengths of soft linen made of flax fibers.
In total, it was a seventy-day process, after which the dead would live life in eternity, in peace and contentment forever. It was a long proces, but over the years, Nebamun had grown accustomed to it. He rubbed his head once more with oil and dried his hands with a linen cloth...

Each of the time periods are essentially a separate adventure, except that there are parts that cross where the later group is involved in bodies that had been prepared by the priests. The book moves from time period to time period so that readers begin to see the great honor given to the dead by the Egyptians...

She reached inside and pulled out a wad of dark brown
rags, stiff with resin. "These will do just fine, the darker
the cloth, the hotter the fire," she said as she threw them
on the ground. "Do you have anything for me too, Abdul?"
she asked, looking at Abdul with distrust.
"I hate burning these, mother," Abdul said, handing her
cloth sack; "almost as much as I hate the shopkeeper
grinding the bones down to dust. These people were alive
once, like we are now."
"Don't be even more foolish than you already are, Abdul.
They are dead now. Why shouldn't we use them as we can,
to make our lives better. If we don't use them,
someone else will," Satre said.
Only to see later generations care nothing about the dead except as it may be used to make money! The town of Gourna had been built on top of many of the tombs of the past.

"Mother, see what money we have made," Karim yelled out. His voice fell flat against the walls of their small whitewashed home.
...Karim and Abdul lived in the small village of Gourna, at the foot of the Theban hills, along with their mother Satre. It was a desolate place, where people scraped by doing whatever they could to make their lives bearable. The villagers would look out across the Nile at the bustling city of Luxor and dream of a better world...

On one of your trips, I'm coming with you," Satre said suddenly.
"What are you talking about, where?" Karim asked.
"When you go into the tombs, I want to come with you."
"Why?" Abdul asked.
"Fool. Why do you think?" Satre said...I think you two are cheating me. I want to find out just how much you bring back in a day..."

Karim and Abdul each poured a bit of the barley into their respective millstones, picked up their pestles and began to bring the full grains into fine powder. Satre and her sons grew silent once again, as they focused on their work of making bread and beer, the two main forms of sustenance to keep their family alive for another few days.
They were so focused in fact, they paid little attention to the common millstones they were using; millstones that were hewn from temple blocks cast aside long ago.
If Karim would have looked closely, he would have seen the small figure of Akhenaton, carved in elegant relief, the original colors long since destroyed, and the carving weathered by time.
There was Akhenaton, father of Tutankhamun, in all of his battle gear, holding the heads of his captives, ready to smite them with his upheld sword.
The brothers could have sen the last vestiges of Akhenaton, from his temple destroyed centuries earlier, if only they had looked...

There is much historical data supporting the stories created by Bettendorf, and, of course, we are all aware of the reality of how the tombs of those who lived in the past were treated. However, the realism of facts combined with a fictional story of main characters involved with how bodies of those in the past have been treated, makes the book worthy of any lover of historical novels, fiction or not.

Every once in awhile, the author slides in several short scenes that will stop you cold, wondering what it was that had been found... or, to listen as Anubis chastises a priest for becoming "too involved" in his work with the body preparation. All in all, this certainly brings readers a totally different perspective of the ancient times in Egypt and some truths about Tutankhamun that have recently been confirmed through autopsy...

Given the continued interest in Egyptian history and all that it entails about past pharaohs, I believe this will be a must-read for some of you. I must admit I've always been intrigued by the architectural beauty in the country, but this novel certainly brings history to each and every reader in a unique and quite satisfying manner. Highly recommended


Julie Bettendorf is a world traveler, with a background in history and a degree in archaeology. It is her dream to make history come alive for the reader - not just the history of the famous, but the history of the forgotten as well.  When she is not traveling, she lives in Portland, Oregon...

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