Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Teacher of Cheops

The Teacher of Cheops, by Albert Salvadó

Literary works by Andorran writers that are translated into English are not thick on the ground, since the principality of Andorra only has about 77,000 people (according to a quick check on Wikipedia).  My town has more people than that, and it has several authors -- but I bet none of them are translated into another language.  So I lifted a page from Ann Morgan's "Year of Reading the World" list, and read Albert Salvadó, who has one novel translated into English from the original Catalan.  And it's a historical novel about ancient Egypt!

This is the life story of Sedum, born into slavery, whose single goal in life is to become free and bequeath that freedom to his children.  He becomes a junior accountant for the Pharaoh Huni and becomes free while still a young man.  Surviving the intricacies of Pharaoh's court is tricky even for a junior accountant, but Sedum rises during Snefru's reign, even becoming a tutor to the Pharaoh's young sons, Kennefer and Cheops.*  Then it's back to accounting, but this time Sedum is in charge of the accounts for building pyramids, a very difficult job indeed.  Powerful officials around the king are finding Sedum inconvenient, and he may not be able to survive.

I wondered how much of this story was based on known history, and the answer was that we know almost nothing about the three Pharaohs featured in the novel; we don't even know how they were related.  So, by necessity, the details are all speculation, but it's pretty interesting and it's reasonable enough as a story, and the historical background provided is very well researched (a pleasant surprise for me, since I tend to be overly critical of historical fiction).   I did not love the somewhat graphic (and not very well-written -- possibly translation difficulties there) sex scenes.  I prefer not to have those in my fiction.

Amid Sedum's cautious navigation of court problems, which brings up issues of honesty, tact, and greed, there is also a strong thread of...not exactly mysticism, and not exactly philosophy, but what are billed as principles of the universe.  Seven are collected at the end of the book, and Salvadó says there is an eighth principle hidden in the text; if you find it, you should contact him directly and tell him about it.

It's a reasonably interesting story; I enjoyed it pretty well, and it works as historical fiction.


_________________________
*Cheops is more widely known as Khufu in English these days; he built the Great Pyramid.

1 comment:

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Ooh, yay, I've never read a book by an Andorran author! One of my unofficial resolutions for the new year is to read books by authors from more countries, so this will be perfect. Yay!