cover image Pharaoh's Daughter: A Novel of Ancient Egypt

Pharaoh's Daughter: A Novel of Ancient Egypt

Julius Lester. Harcourt Children's Books, $17 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201826-9

Lester (To Be a Slave) creates a captivating story and a compelling portrait of a Moses torn between two cultures, from the time of his discovery in the bulrushes to his solo flight to Midian. A brief introduction explains that the author has ""removed Moses from sacred history and [has] sought to put him into human history""; thus he changes ""Moses"" to ""Mosis"" (meaning ""is born,"" a shortened form of the Egyptian name ""Tuthmosis"") and plants the seed for the spiritual conflict that begins to grow within the great would-be leader. In a prologue, narrated by the eponymous heroine, Mosis confesses that he has just murdered an Egyptian. Lester immediately grabs readers' attention and goes about answering the resounding question posed at the prologue's end: ""Why, Mosis?"" The author plants many surprises along the way. To begin with, the titular heroine is not Meryetamun, daughter of the pharaoh Ramesses the Great, who takes the baby from the bulrushes. Instead, she is Mosis's sister, Almah (Lester carefully documents his logic in creating her character), an independent thinker whose scholarly father taught her the Egyptian language of Khemetian. Her fearlessness and honesty when she meets the princess leads to Mosis's--and all male Habiru (Hebrew) babies'--imminent salvation and results in her and Mosis's adoption into the pharaoh's family. Through impeccably researched details, Lester imagines a titillating paradise within the pharaoh's palace walls. He appeals to all five senses as he evokes the exotic smells, sounds, costumes, jewelry and worship practices the girl discovers there. Readers witness for themselves why Almah and Mosis are inexorably torn between the faith of their Habiru mother (who remains in the palace for Mosis's early childhood) and the Khemetian aesthetics and beliefs. Almah's narration in part one describes her tantalizing seduction into the Khemetian way of life. Her perspective provides the perfect contrast to Mosis's narration in part two; she possesses the ability to respect both sides and to choose what she believes to be right, while he lives in confusion until he is forced to make a choice. Mosis's pain is palpable as he describes his betrayal by the men in the palace to whom he felt closest. The murder that begins the novel is transformed, by the conclusion, into an act of love. By painting the Khemetian and Habiru cultures as equally compelling, Lester reenacts an ancient society completely interdependent, with power struggles as potent as any in the modern world. Here Mosis has not reached the Red Sea; he is a young man of faith and doubt, as human as readers themselves. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)