Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review: The Pharaoh's Daughter by Mesu Andrews

Months ago, when I read on the internet that Mesu Andrews would be releasing a biblical fiction account of Moses’ adoptive Egyptian mother, I was filled with excitement and anticipation. I am an avid reader of the Old Testament, especially the books of Genesis, Samuel I and Samuel II, and Kings I and Kings II. In addition, Moses is one of the most fascinating characters in the Bible to me: he was supremely influential to the Ancient Israeli culture and religion but had lived as an Egyptian prince during his youth and early adulthood. He was also a conflicted man, torn between the Egyptian court that had raised him and the Hebrew slaves who were his true relatives.

Moses, adopted son of Bithiah
(known as the Egyptian princess Annipe in Mesu Andrews' book)

With that in mind, I assumed any book about his adoptive mother Bithiah (her Hebrew name) would be a fascinating look into the conflict readily available in such a context, but from the maternal point of view of a woman who was just as conflicted and torn as he was. What I found out instead was this: The Pharaoh’s Daughter by Mesu Andrews is not a book about Bithiah, the Hebrew woman who had formerly been an Egyptian princess. Instead, this book is about Annipe, the Egyptian princess who fully embraced life in the Egyptian court and only converted to the Hebrew way of life after her deception of Pharaoh was revealed and resulted in her near fatal punishment and exile. Such a book can be fascinating on its own, if that is what one is truly interested in, and I myself found it to be an easy and enjoyable read. Still, my ultimate disappointment was inevitable, because it was not the book I wanted it to be.

In the genre of biblical fiction, what interests me specifically is the insight it can provide about God, His people, and life in ancient biblical times. The historical context is fascinating as well, but the most important part to me is how it helps me to see the stories of the Bible. My issue with The Pharaoh’s Daughteris that most of the book focused on Egyptian court life with all of its intrigues, gossip, politics, turmoil, and manipulations. By the time it finally converged into the context of the Hebrew slaves and their existence in Egypt, the book was coming to an end. Basically, just when it got to what I thought of as “the good part” it was over.

What was it like for Bithiah/Annipe to witness this?
Reading about Annipe’s personal struggles -- the result of her early childhood trauma and the confusion brought on by the complex and ever-changing structure of Egyptian religion -- was a moving experience. But it would have been even more so and epically compelling if it had been followed by the struggles she experienced as Bithiah, a woman grafted into the Hebrew nation of Israel.

The Egyptian princess vs. the Hebrew slave

Was her conversion to following the God of Israel by choice? Was it the result of having been exiled and banished by Pharaoh? Or a combination of both? Did the Hebrews readily accept her, or were they wary of her presence as they began the sojourn from slavery in Egypt towards the Promise Land? How did she feel when her beloved adopted son was convicted of murder and banished from the court she had snuck him into through her subterfuge and trickery? How did she feel when he returned, changed into a prophet and shepherd who demanded the freedom of the people he had once ignored? What was it like for her to witness the miracles he wrought through his obedience to God, such as the parting of the Red Sea? What was it like to see the plagues his God inflicted upon her birth nation, such as the death of each Egyptian first born, including her relative, the oldest son of Pharaoh?

None of these questions were answered, because Mesu Andrews’ book focused almost exclusively on her life as Annipe, the Egyptian princess. So ultimately, I was disappointed, because the fertile ground that could have been the source of so much enriching fruit was basically ignored. Even if the opportunity to do so had resulted in a book that was twice as long, it would have been worth it for me. I think of Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series as such an example of an epic tale influenced by the events of the Bible. This is the type of book that Mesu Andrews could have written, but instead, I was left with a quick character study on a troubled and fearful woman living in a troubled and fearful time. Such as book is fine, but it’s not the book I had hoped to read. 

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