Akhenaten: Dweller In Truth

Written by Naguib Mahfouz
Review by Michael I. Shoop

The story of the “heretic” Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten and his fabulously beautiful wife, Nefertiti, continues to fascinate, as evidenced in this recent translation of the 1985 novel by acclaimed author Mahfouz. In this version, the story is told through the character of a young man, Meriamum. After he and his father view the ruined city of the dead pharaoh, Meriamum seeks to uncover the truth about the controversial pharoah of Egypt and the tumultuous events of his reign over the Two Lands.

Given letters of introduction by his father, Meriamum is granted interviews with people who were close to Akhenaten, both friends and enemies: Councilor Ay, General Haremhab, Queen Tadukhipa of the royal harem, Princess Mutnedjmet, Commander Mae, and finally Nefertiti herself. In his search for the true story, Meriamum learns details of Akhenaten’s “mad” monotheistic ideas, his attempts to challenge his own culture’s beliefs and how his monotheism ultimately led to his own ruin.

Beautifully written, with short chapters alternating between characters, Mahfouz seamlessly weaves their tales together, giving each character a distinct voice, and creating a cohesive whole. Although at times repetitive, the author provides illuminating glimpses into an ancient Egypt during a troubled era about which much is still unknown. For those new to the story of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, this is a pleasant introduction; for a more in-depth treatment, Allen Drury’s novels A God Against the Gods and Return to Thebes would be excellent follow-up choices.