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“Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth ” by Naguib Mahfouz is a book that tells the story of the first monotheistic pharaoh in history, narrating both his rise and fall
Miri-Mon left Sais to go with her father to Panapolis to visit her sister. On the way, passing by a forbidden city, Miri-Mon asked her father to tell him what had happened there. It was, in fact, the city of the heretic, better known by the name of Akhenaton, a sacrilegious and cursed place where now only Nefertiti, the widow of the pharaoh, lived. The young Miri-Mon then remembered that as a child he had been told stories about a pharaoh who had broken with tradition and defied the gods and his own destiny. Miri-Mon’s curiosity will lead him to Akhenaten, the cursed city, where he will remain imprisoned by the beauty of Nefertiti.
The monotheistic pharaoh
I bought this book enraptured more than ever by the author, one of the best Arab novelists ever, and by the figure of Akhenaten, one of the first monotheists ever. Precisely for this characteristic, this pharaoh has always been with an eye different from all Abrahamic religions and I was curious to see how it would be treated by Mahfouz, a writer who has always reflected at length on matters of faith; I must say that the text is quite different from what I expected.
In fact, I would have imagined a sort of powerful reflection like the one seen in “Children of Gebelawi “, but here the author’s intent is not so much to make us reflect on faith, but on the figure. For heaven’s sake, the book contains reflections on monotheism and the cult of Aten, but the focus of the novel is constantly focused on Akhenaton, his rise and fall, costing the people of the Nile incredible social and political upheavals.
Testimonies about a possible prophet
The work is made up of the testimonies collected by Miri-Mon during her journey, in which she will “interview” all the figures still alive close to the ex pharaoh, obtaining testimonies with a very different spirit, but which all follow the same trajectory . The major difference in the stories is related to how much faith the characters had in their lord: his true followers saw him as a messiah, the others as a weak and effeminate charlatan.
The text is very well written and manages to keep the reader glued to the pages as well as to show him frescoes of daily life, but, in my humble opinion, it could have been something even greater. Mahfouz is in fact a truly superlative author and I would have hoped that more space would be given to reflections on monotheism rather than the mere life of the protagonist. In general it is not an “ugly” book, but certainly a work which would have needed very little to become legendary and which has consciously chosen to remain more “ordinary”; what a pity.
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