This book made me really think about my reading choices. It is almost 500 pages long, and I realized that if I had more time, I would not have read this book. As counter-intuitive as it might sound, it is true and validated upon reflection.
I like reading historical fiction for its other-worldness, richness and wisdom of hindsight. And yet, the only reason I continued to read this book was that it was easy to read (that, and I didn’t want to add to the list of books I didn’t end up finishing).
You see, this book was read in large part on trains, waiting at the airport, in the hotel room alone in evenings after long intense work-days. Perhaps ‘time’ is not the right word.. I did not have the mental bandwidth to process something more complex but better quality.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not a bad book- it is worse- it is a completely mediocre book. There is not a single occurrence in it which deviates from what a teenager might be able to predict about the storyline of a TV soap opera.
Someone might argue that the writer was only being loyal to historical fact, and therefore what can one do. But I think that’s not where the constraint was. For instance, the Queen Neith-hotep whom King Narmer marries and who is the main queen, is considered by historians to have been from the ‘Lower Kem’, whereas Narmer was from ‘Upper Kem’, and thus presumably the marriage was a political one to secure the unification of upper and lower Kem. In the book, however, the ‘political wedding’ is relegated to a 2nd marriage that is of no significance to Narmer and the politics at the capital, and in the forefront are Narmer and the love of his life Neith-hotep. There were clearly opportunities to weave a richer fabric.
At the same time, I firmly believe that a book/movie/play is not made more interesting necessarily by introducing more intrigue or events. There can be wisdom derived from the most mundane of things, or the most unremarkable flow of events. And the relative absence of this is perhaps the reason I wasn’t thrilled. The writing style is amateurish and it comes through that the writer is not from the culture in which the events are occurring.
There are moments when the book levels up, sometimes when Narmer’s teacher Anhotek is sharing some pearls of wisdom with him- more often when Narmer is reflecting on something by himself. And I hate to say anything non-complimentary about any book because I know how much effort goes into writing, and how easy it is to criticize. And for this reason, I think in future I should rather stop when I find myself getting disinterested or frustrated. There are other places where I build discipline. This is not an exercise in discipline.
And also, for better or for worse, we grow more and more like the things and people we surround ourselves with- and one needs to be more mindful of what these influences are.
It is because we are squeezed dry by the hustle and bustle of ‘real world’, that we sedately gobble down a lot of gibberish that is fed to us on TV and other media (yes, all the whatsapp forwards and videos of kittens on facebook) that take up countless hours of our lives, but at the moment seem like easy choices. We lose that time and opportunity to build up some meaningful reserves, and come into the ‘real world’ even more empty than before. And the vicious cycle goes on.