04 February 2016

Mara, Daughter of the Nile

I've just finished reading one of my favorite books for the fifth time. (If you haven't figured it out already, I'm a firm believer in re-reading.) And it is still one of my favorite books. Perhaps no longer the very top of my list (it was for quite a while), but still up there. Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw.

This is a historical novel set in ancient Egypt. I've read it's historically inaccurate, but it was written in 1953 so we mustn't be too shocked about that. And, frankly, does it matter? The worldbuilding is excellent. Even if the author maybe didn't know all there is to know about ancient Egypt, she creates the atmosphere with authority.
I am still not certain why I like this book so much. Certainly it has a compelling plot and interesting characters, but so do lots of other books. This time around, I paid special attention to the descriptions, and I realized McGraw is a master at description. Take this passage, which occurs toward the end of the book:
 Nekonkh bellowed an order, waved his hairy arms. As the crew swarmed down the ladder, chattering like monkeys over their unexpected liberty, Sheftu walked to the far side of the deck and stood there, feeling the warm sunshine beat down over his head and shoulders and the backs of his hands where they lay clasped on the rail. The very air smelled of heat and sun and water this morning. A fleet of fishing boats traced in gilt skimmed across Sheftu's line of vision, their sails pure light and their shadows ink puddles. Two barges moved ponderously upstream. Far across the river a hawk flapped up suddenly, curved and soared and dwindled to a speck in the cobalt sky. (Mara, Daughter of the Nile, 218)
Don't you just live in the scene? Four of the five senses appear in this short paragraph, making for a full experience of the scene described. I was very tempted to give another example, but I don't know how much of this book I'm legally supposed to quote, so I'll leave it at that. But guess what. This caliber of description happens throughout the whole book. It's like reading-candy, it's so beautiful. I am especially in admiration, as description is something I constantly struggle with.
Now, couple this amazing description ability with an action-packed and fast-paced plot, intriguing characters with unique arcs, and the historical setting of Ancient Egypt, and there you have a fantastic book.
But don't take my word for it. Read it yourself.
P.S. I didn't bother summarizing the plot because it's easy enough to look it up on Amazon and get a summary there. ...Plus I don't like summarizing things I feel strongly about!

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