Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

All credit to the discovery of this book goes to my mother, who read it to my brother and I when we were younger.

Historical fiction, as you've probably already learned from my blog, is not a genre I often get excited about. It's a wonderful genre and needs more good books, but what's in it now is not always that great.
By which same token, this book was originally published in 1953.

So what's it about?
Mara, Daughter of the Nile is about a revolutionary, and a revolution; about the Pharoah Hatshepsut who is not a good ruler, and the imprisoned Prince Thutmose who some believe could be. But it's also about Mara the slave-girl, brilliant and street-smart and tricky and proud and somehow utterly engaging. She is sold to an agent of the Pharoah and told to act as a spy for them, and then finds herself caught up in working for the other side, for the revolutionaries.
At first she intends to please her new master and turn the revolutionaries in... but the leader of the revolution is a young man named Sheftu, and Mara finds herself disliking the idea of causing his death...

This is an amazing book. Yes, it is a romance. But it's also an espionage story, a political story, a revolution story, a story set in the vivid and far-off world of Ancient Egypt. It's incredibly well-written and action-packed enough to satisfy anyone.
As one of my friends (Sylvia let's call her) said just a few days ago, "It looks like one of those books your parents give you for your education. But it's good!"

Some quotes:

...He gave Nekonkh a moment to absorb that thought, then added casually, "So you would overthrow the queen?"
"By the Feather of Truth, I said no such thing!" gasped Nekonkh. He darted an agonized glance up and down the deck, then strode to a deserted spot in the bows.
Sheftu followed, his face amused. "A wise precaution.... They say the queen's spies are everywhere."
"No doubt!" Nekonkh was convinced he was talking to one that minute.


"Egypt is not pharoah, Mara, nor is it this long, green valley with its black mud that is so different from what I know. Egypt is neither the Nile nor the cities - "
"Then what is it?"
"You, Mara."
"And all the others - the people, all those you have told me of, and the fishermen yonder on the river, and the potters and carpenters and their like... - and their friends, and their kin...."

{Writing that last quote makes me want to cry because of a certain later part.}

Perhaps you've gathered by now how much I love this book. I think it should be on everyone's list. It does also make an excellent read-aloud.
Age recommendations: anyone old enough to appreciate a good thrilling plot. There's some kissing and some violence, but I was about nine years old when I read it, so I don't think it's a problem. People do swear by the Egyptian gods; I don't find that offensive, but some might. Parents worried by any moral ambiguity of the protagonist may relax in the fact that things do change by the end.
In fact, (highlight for hidden spoiler) Mara's final decision to keep her word and be selfless is what saves the day in the end. Don't think I'm a wimp, but I honestly find those parts near the end almost heartbreakingly wonderful.

What are you waiting for? Go forth and read.

1 comment:

  1. I've heard so much about this book for years, and have been meaning to try it myself. Soon!