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Gedge, Pauline.

Toronto, Macmillan, c1984. 407pp, cloth, $22.95, ISBN 0-7715-9823-8. CIP

Reviewed by Sharon Singer

Volume 13 Number 3
1985 May

Exploring, as in her first novel Child of the Morning*, the rich fabric and texture of ancient Egypt, Pauline Gedge turns her sights on Akhenaten, the most unusual pharaoh of thirty Egyptian dynasties.

The task of novelizing the life of "the heretic pharaoh" is a formidable one. It is perhaps for this reason, Gedge has chosen to present him through the eyes of those around him rather than letting him speak for himself.

Akhenaten's mother Tiye, the central character of Gedge's novel, convinces an aging and ailing Amunhotep 111, to proclaim, against his better judgement, their only living son, royal heir.

Having grown up in the royal harem, introverted, innocent of the outside world, without the influence of vigorous, male warriors around him, the boy is consumed by poetry, art, and his developing religious awareness.

After the death of Amunhotep III, Amunhotep IV changes his name to Akhenaton, glorifying the name of his god, Aten, the sun disk. Committed to reshaping his world as his god directs, he builds a new capital in the desert and inspires the artists of his time. Intolerant to those who oppose him, he strips the priests of Amun (the former major deity) of all power and wealth, and allows the empire to dwindle in his indifference to the exterior world.

Ultimately, although pharaohs were considered gods in Egypt, conspirators arise against Akhenaten to save the country that is decaying and starving because of his neglect and his transgressions against "ma at," the proper order of things.

The Twelfth Transforming is a sweeping historical novel that basically follows current archaeological thought on Akhenaten, while speculating about the psychological motivations.

We cannot know to what degree Akhenaten was a frightened, sickly, desperate neurotic, who, deprived of his father's love and his mother's attentions, sought refuge and comfort in a religious zeal otherwise unknown in Egypt, or whether he was truly a seer, with a vision of the harmony and beauty of a bountiful universe ruled by one caring god in civilization's first vision of monotheism.

Called "the first individual in history," Akhenaten, man of mystery, passion, disdain, devotion, looms so large over Egypt that he deserves the benefit of greater ambiguity. Gedge weighs the balance too heavily on the side of madness, of Freudian interpretation. The reader dissects the psychological imbalance of the man rather than revelling in the fires of spiritual questing.

An exciting read, nevertheless, and an interesting adjunct to upper level courses in Egyptian or Middle Eastern history. It is bound to stimulate discussion.

Sharon Singer, Toronto, Ont.

*Reviewed vol. Vl/l Winter 1978 p.46.

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