This historical novel (544 pages) was published in July of 2014 by Harper. The book takes you to 1922 Egypt. Melissa read The Visitors and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
Drop a spunky Jane Eyre-esque heroine into 1922 Cairo with a traveling companion that’s straight out of A Room with a View, and you get this epic novel of the golden age of Egyptology.
Lucy Payne (11-years old, curious, forthright) has just lost her mother to typhoid and is now the sole responsibility of her ambitious Cambridge professor father, who’s distracted by his books and his curvaceous new secretary. So he foists her into the hands of American governess Miss Mack and packs them both off to Egypt for dry desert air and educational experiences.
In Cairo, ensconced at the luxurious Sheapherd’s Hotel, they find themselves among the posh society of other foreigners: Howard Carter, the real-life archaeologist who discovered King Tut’s tomb; Lord Carnarvon, the aristocrat who financed Carter’s work; and assorted wives, children, servants, and posh friends. It’s all very gossipy and British and gin-soaked.
The action takes the travelers and Egyptologists from Cairo to Luxor and includes a houseboat ride up the Nile, picnics at the Great Sphinx and pharaoh’s tombs, car chases across the desert, a garden party fraught with tension, drunken spats and revelations — all leading up to the discovery of King Tut’s tomb and the question that drives part of the narrative: When Carter opened the tomb, he was supposed to wait for an official entrance with the Egyptian Department of Antiquities. But did he enter the inner sanctum in the dark of night?
The narrative deftly moves between past and present as the now 90-year-old Lucy tells the totally true and tall tales of her past. She reflects on lifelong friendships, the mysteries buried in the Egyptian desert, and the darker years, later, of London during WWII.
This is a sweeping epic with a large cast of idiosyncratic characters getting into all kinds of mischief and interpersonal struggles. If you’d like to sip tea with them on a houseboat on the Nile, or join them for a picnic in the cool shade of a pharaoh’s tomb, this is the novel for you.
We made our way through the green fertile zone that spread out along the bank of the Nile and, after half an hour or so, reached the crossroads where we turned inland. There, the lush fields of papyrus, rushes and palm trees abruptly ended and desert began. The rough track climbed, gently at first, then more steeply. Ahead of me, I saw the cliffs and crags that concealed the Valley of the Kings… There, the cobra goddess Meretseger had her abode; her name meant ‘She who loves silence.’ She was the deity protecting these hills and their tombs, spitting a deadly venom into the eyes of anyone who defiled them. — Sally Beauman
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