In The Valley of the Kings


This is Howard Carter’s story, and how he, though not a gentleman, was able to work in Egyptian archeology during the last hectic days of European colonialism. Carter’s father was a painter of animals for the upper classes, and, at first, so was Carter. Lord Tyssen-Amherst’s pets were his first subjects. This gentleman, an antiquarian with a fascination with ancient Egypt, would be Carter’s sponsor. As a painter with an eye for color, Carter began by copying hieroglyphics for others. The author conveys the flavor of the last of the Indiana Jones style “archeologists,” where digging for treasure was perceived as a gentlemanly occupation about as likely to hit the jackpot as a season in Monte Carlo. Lord Carnarvon was the gambler/playboy who eventually bankrolled Carter, but the burgeoning nationalism of the Egyptians would eventually wrest their most celebrated find—the contents of King Tut’s tomb—from their grasp.

I found the opening chapters difficult to navigate because of constant backtracking. There were plenty of excellent footnotes, but I felt the narrative was stylistically inconsistent, the voice sometimes scholarly, sometimes more like that of a raconteur. On balance, however, in whatever voice, I found this an enjoyable read, with plenty of fascinating insights into the character of a brave, stubborn, self-made man.

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12 of the best stories selected from the 2012 Historical Novel Society Short Story Award






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