Sunday, September 7, 2014

Egypt in the Age of Colonialism

Ushabti of Tutankhamun (KV62)

If you have had the opportunity to see the King Tut Treasures exhibit you will really appreciate this story of the discovery and opening of the tomb titled "The Visitors."

Lucy Payne is convalescing from the terrible typhoid that took the life of her mother. In order to regain her health in a favorable climate, a friend of the family takes her to Egypt in the decadent era of the 1920s. She becomes fast friends with Frances Winlock, the young daughter of an American archaeologist. The two are inseparable, which allows Lucy entrance into the exciting world of the colonial society of Luxor during this mesmerizing age of discovery.

This is the first part of the book, and it is fascinating and compelling. For the most part the characterizations are totally engaging and believable. The author has certainly done her research well and both Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovers the tomb, and his partner, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon are larger than life in this captivating tale. The author holds back none of the scandal surrounding the find and we get an honest look at both these men who have been dead for over 80 years.

An interesting sidelight is that Highclere Castle currently featured in the popular series, “Downton Abbey” is the actual estate of the Earl of Carnarvon and it is said there are many of the Earl's Egyptian treasures stored there. 

The character of Francis Winlock was exceptionally likeable and interesting but I didn’t feel realistic for a girl as young as she would have been at that time. Lucy is eleven and Frances is supposedly three years younger but the way the author portrays her, one gets the impression that she is the eldest and more sophisitcated. In any event, the friends Lucy makes on this trip are her friends for life and that is what the last part of the book deals with; a reminiscence of her life, both during and after the excitement of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.

I really thought that after Lucy stops talking about her two visits to Egypt, the author could have cut back on much of the rest of her life. While the writing continues to be vivid and beautifully descriptive, there is not much of a plot line from that point on. The novel could have probably ended with the deaths of the Earl and Carter.    

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