Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Pharaoh's life: Walking in the footsteps of Hatshepsut

Title: The Double Crown
Author: Marie Heese
Publisher: Human & Rousseau, 2009

The first time I encountered Marie Heese’s writing was when we studied her Afrikaans novel, Die Uurwerk Kantel during high school. Even back then, although I did not fully understand everything Marie Heese was trying to bring across with her writing, I remember feeling incredibly troubled after finishing the work.

Now, many years later, I feel the same way after finishing reading The Double Crown, a fictionalised account of the Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s life. But, this is a good kind of “troubled” because it makes me sit back and consider the outcome of the choices I may make if I were to strive for sovereignty in my life, let alone rule one of the most complex of ancient kingdoms, like Hatshepsut did.

A common thread joining these two works follows the lives of women, of the sacrifices they make for what they believe in. Simply put, even if this is a fictionalised account of Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s life, the woman achieved more than most of us could ever dream to.

I am the chosen of the gods. I have always known that. This knowledge has been the source of my strength and my power, and it is the reason why I know that those who now seek my death and desire to usurp my throne shall not succeed.

These are the words Heese chooses to begin The Double Crown, which perfectly sum up Hatshepsut’s attitude. In order to succeed, she identified her innate divinity to rule as the chosen of Amen, which was unheard of for any woman.

Heese weaves a tale that is part journal and part speculation of the events gleaned from perusing what records remain of Hatshepsut’s life, succeeding in portraying a balanced account of the pharaoh’s life. Hatshepsut often faced difficult decisions. At times she followed her heart and at others she put her happiness aside for what she considered the greater good for Egypt. The ending, however, is inevitable, when Hatshepsut – alone – looks back over her life, considering whether her life was a success.

She was a mother, a ruler and a woman, with the complex needs of the different roles she filled, and striking a balance in these areas was not easy. The tale, at times dark, also has moments of pure joy and humour, encapsulating the entirety of Hatshepsut’s life.

Heese’s many years of research definitely pay off and I was privileged to hear her speak about her new release at this year’s Cape Town Book Fair. She says, “After a while it was almost as though I could hear her speaking to me and I thought, you know what, I have to do this, I have to tell her story.”

What a story it is, making me feel as if I actually walked through the streets of Thebes or smelled the incense in the temples. There are very few books out there that move me to tears at the end and this was one of them. Although the pharaohs who followed Hatshepsut did their best to erase her name, the words of the scribes ensure that her name will live forever, and Heese is one of these great scribes.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Nerine. I came across this blog in a strange way. I have some second-hand textbooks, osbcure subject matter. Out of curiosity, I looked up the original owner of those books, Marie Blignault. She is now Marie Heese.