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Nefertiti: Egypt's Sun Queen by Joyce Tyldesley: A Book Review

Nefertiti: Egypt’s Sun Queen
Author: Joyce Tyldesley
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Penguin Books
Release Date: 2005
Pages: 265
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: In the tradition of her intriguing Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh, Joyce Tyldesley rescues another female ruler from the shadows of history (c.1350 B.C.): Queen Nefertiti, whose name literally translates as “ A Beautiful Woman Has Come.” For over a decade Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten, the monotheistic pharaoh, was the most influential woman in the Bronze Age world, blessed by the sun god, adored by her family, and worshipped by her people. Her image and her name were celebrated throughout Egypt, and her future seemed golden.

     Suddenly Nefertiti disappeared from the royal family, vanishing so completely that it was as if she had never been. No record survives to detail her death, no monument serves to mourn her passing, and to this day her end remains a mystery. Was she banished by her husband or promoted to rule alongside him as an equal? Did she change her own name to reign as king in her own right? Could she have been the eminence grise behind the young Tutankhamun. her son-in-law, as he took his place on the throne of pharaohs?

     Nefertiti's body has never been found but her world-famous image-- in the form of the exquisite painted bust discovered in 1912 and first exhibited in the Berlin Museum-- has allowed her to defy the passage of time. Nefertiti is now a universally admired beauty, the most recognizable queen of ancient Egypt, and a symbol of her country’s history.

     Until now, however we have known little about her. Joyce Tyldesley uses a combination of archaeological, textual, and artistic evidence to provide a detailed discussion of her life and times of Nefertiti, set against the background of the heretical and ephemeral Armana court. Nefertiti is a radical re-creation and the first full-scale biography of one of the most mysterious, powerful, and beautiful women of the ancient world.

     My review: The bust of Nefertiti that is housed in Berlin’s museum is one of the most famous icons in popular culture. Because of her beauty, she has become the symbol of Ancient Egypt. Her face is on key-rings, iphone cases, post-cards, t-shirts, etc. Aside from her image, who was the mysterious Nefertiti? How much power and influence did she actually have? What were her accomplishments besides being merely beautiful? Joyce Tyldesley’s biography seeks to answer these questions.

     There are few known details about the life of Nefertiti. This is not only because of the long gap of time between our world today and Nefertiti’s world, but because she is mostly in the background in Ancient Egypt. Nefertiti does not only stand behind the pharaoh, but she is glimpsed over by her formidable mother-in-law, Queen Tiy, who has much more power and influence as the Akhenaten's mother. However, Nefertiti gained some influence as the pharaoh's wife, she took on duties of priesthood, that was usually assigned to the pharaoh. She was also known as a dutiful and faithful wife.

     Overall, the novel gives us a tiny glimpse into the life of Nefertiti. Because not much is known about her, the author mostly focuses on Akhenaten and his reign. This novel is more of an archeological work and how Nefertiti has been interpreted. Tyldesley mentions the popular theories about Nefertiti and then debunks them as she goes along. I felt that she gave us thorough and comprehensive answers and did her best with the evidence she had. The conclusions about her birth and disappearance made sense. However, after reading this book, I found myself more interested in Queen Tiy than I was in Nefertiti. I felt that this  biography knew more about Queen Tiy than it did of Nefertiti because of her prominence at court. I found it fascinating how Tiy, a commoner, had risen to become one of the most powerful women at court. While the writing is dry as a textbook, it is very comprehensible to the reader. The book has a lot of interesting pictures of Nefertiti. I also like how she incorporates how Nefertiti has been perceived in popular culture. This novel is a great introduction for those who want to learn about the Armana period of Ancient Egypt.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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