Sunday, August 19, 2007

Book review: Gamal al-Ghitani's "Pyramid Texts"

The Pyramid Texts, which evolved into the Book of the Dead, are the oldest religious writing from ancient Egypt that are known to us today. A collection of spells and legends, the texts form the basis of much Egyptian religious theology and literature. The oldest of the Pyramid Texts were found, in the form of funerary inscriptions, on the walls inside the Pyramid of Unas in the region of Saqqara. In myriad, diverse ways, they describe the resurrection and ascension of the pharaos to the afterlife. What binds them together is their emphasis on the eternal existence of the king and their tendency to equate the sky with the realm of the afterlife.

Gamal al-Ghitani's "Pyramid Texts" was first published in Arabic as "Mutun al-Ahram" in 1994. An English edition, by award-winning literary translator Humphrey Davies, was published earlier this year by the American University in Cairo Press. Ghitani uses the ancient texts as a point of departure, interpreting them, extrapolating from them and twisting them into fiction in a volume that is more a collection of stories than a novel. His take on the original Pyramid Texts is as intriguing and mesmerizing as the spells that are thousands of years old. They are, as Ghitani writes, "too marvelous to ignore and too mysterious to comprehend."

See the above page for the entire review.

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