Friday, October 4, 2013

The Scribe and the Lotus


The Scribe and the Lotus by Bakr Fahmy is a historical fiction novel set in ancient in Egypt in the years 2169 – 2167 BC. The main character is a Scribe called Thut-Nefer, who constantly attempts to become one with or achieve his Maat, which “creating truth and upholding the balance”. In other words, he strives for justice and its application.

The story tackles ancient Egypt where King Ibi and his governors wreak of corruption, greed and injustice, where poverty is prevalent and where the people hope that justice would be served one day; “Corruption is eating at us, from the inside out.” (p. 35)

The pace of The Scribe and the Lotus is slow, as it mostly deals with Thut-Nefer’s reflections, thoughts and philosophy concerning the ancient texts he has memorized. The blue lotus flower is a dominant theme throughout the novel and it always appears as a source of relaxation, meditation and revelation. It has a strong effect on Thut-Nefer and allows him to transcend the boundaries of human life. The novel mixes philosophy with politics and modern-day problems.

There are several instances of rise in tension such as the disappearance of Nar, Thut-Nefer’s friend, and the appearance of the jackal but these instances only act as a means to push the novel forward.

The novel is filled with beautiful imagery – many of which are associated with the blue lotus flower. Amongst these images are “The scribe’s mind is as sharp as the ibis’s beak and can draw blood, especially when it’s being provoked.” (p. 15); “That girl has a special magic about her. It must be from her perpetual contact with the lotus, as if the plant entwines itself around her body and soul, creating a unison of the seen and the unseen, finally blossoming into one singularly beautiful flower… When I stare into this blue lotus blossom’s brilliance, my eyes become imbued with her very essence, her light. When I breathe in her sacred fragrance, my nostrils dilate as if I’m standing at the Other World’s garden gate.” (p. 63).

One of the significant images in the novel is “The rat has begotten a ferocious appetite, just like the crocodile, and the crocodile has become filthy, just like the rat” (p. 32 and 33). This comparison between the rat and crocodile is both interesting and significant. Thut-Nefer applies it to humans and the political image reveals how the greedy have become corrupt and how the evil or the corrupt have become greedy; there is a mixing of evils.

The Scribe and the Lotus is not an average novel for it is very philosophical and contains many references to texts written in ancient Egypt. Bakr Fahmy relies on these texts and quotes several throughout his novel, giving it a heavy weight in the historical fiction genre.

It is not an easy or light read and I personally felt that there was extensive use of verbose language, which did not appeal to me, but in some instances, it fitted the text since the main character is a Scribe in the Holy City of Men-Nefer. The story is written in the third person but using the present tense, which was rather undigestable to me at first and which took me a very long time to get used to.

It is quite obvious that the author, Bakr Fahmy, has done extensive research to write and compile such a heavy-weighted novel. He must be lauded and applauded for that. The novel is set in ancient Egypt so the language has an archaeological and ancient nature to it. The use of references and quotes, gives credibility to the historical side of the story. The author has also made many good choices with his selection of ancient Egyptian texts and references.

There were some spelling inconsistencies in the novel such as the spelling of Sakkara and Saqqara; also, the reference to the doctor or physician as “Swnw” and later as “Swnswn”. This annoyed and confused me a fair bit.

Though the final chapter in The Scribe and the Lotus is the shortest chapter in the entire novel, it is also the perfect conclusion to such a piece as it links the present with the future. In many instances, the reader, and particularly an Egyptian or Arab reader, feels that what is to come is similar to the recent Egyptian Revolution that took place in January 2011.

Though it is not a light read, The Scribe and the Lotus is an interesting novel that mixes philosophy with modern day ailments and problems. It is a novel that distinguishes itself in the historical fiction genre.

Overall rating: 4/5 stars.

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