Thursday, May 3, 2018

Book 127: Nefertiti

"I saw Kiya try to speak with the prince, to tear her husband's gaze away from my sister, but Amunhotep would not be distracted. I wondered what he thought of his future wife, and I studied the way Nefertiti held men in her power. She spoke softly, so they had to bend closer to hear, and she gave her smiles sparingly, so that when she laughed a man felt like he had been bathed in her light."

Dates read: February 16-21, 2017

Rating: 4/10

My sister and I did not get along growing up. She's four and a half years younger than me, and that's an uncomfortable age gap when you're young...she was always just far enough behind to be incredibly irritating. Once I went to college and we stopped being in each other's hair all the time, we got along much better, and by the time she got to college herself, we were close friends. Like all friends, we go through periods where our closeness ebbs and flows (my living on the other side of the country has been hard), but she's still one of my best friends.

Anyone who's ever been close to a sibling knows that sometimes relationships get dysfunctional. Michelle Moran's Nefertiti looks at the Egyptian queen, famous for her loveliness, through the lens of her relationship with her sister Muhmodnjet. As Sister of the King's Chief Wife, Muhmodnjet (who was an actual historical person, if not especially well-documented) is uniquely positioned to be the narrator of the story: Nefertiti may be a queen, but she's still just her big sister, and Muhmodnjet has a front row seat to all the action of courtly life.

While Moran tells the story of an interesting time in Egyptian history (Nefertiti's husband, Amunhotep, moved Egyptian worship away from its principal focus on Amun to Aten, and even constructed a new city in the desert to replace the capitol of Thebes), she forgets to give us interesting characters. Nefertiti, groomed by her parents to ensure their continued prominence at court, is spoiled and almost irredeemingly selfish, while Muhmodnjet is mostly passive and somehow naive despite being raised by one of the highest political officials at court, always gasping at something that really shouldn't be that surprising. The king, who renames himself Akhenaten to reflect his religious convictions, is almost a cartoon villain: he murders his own brother at the top of the book and apparently thinks of nothing but his own glorification. No one is compelling or more than two dimensional.

And while some of it is surely incidental, when I was reading it, I found myself constantly comparing it to the (better) The Other Boleyn Girl, with the personalities of and the dynamic between the sisters  echoing Gregory's book. Stories about the relationships between sisters don't have to be as rosy as, say, Jane Austen's work, and certainly plenty of real-life relationships of this kind are poisonous and frought, but this one feels derivative and doesn't have any special insight or twist to share. I love books about the relationships between people: families, friends, romantic partners because they are often complex and moving. But this one brings nothing to the table and I'd recommend skipping it.

Tell me, blog friends...what's your favorite book about sisters?

One year ago, I was reading: The Highest Tide

Two years ago, I was reading: Enchanted Islands


  1. Four Sisters, All Queens by Sherry Jones.

    1. Oooo that sounds delightfully dramatic! Adding it to my list!