Angela Hunt. Egypt’s Sister. Bethany House, 2017. See here to buy the book.
Egypt’s Sister is the first book of Angela Hunt’s “The Silent Years,” which concerns the so-called “Intertestamental Period,” the time between the Old and the New Testaments. This first book is about Cleopatra VII, the Greek queen who ruled Egypt during the first century B.C.E. The next book, apparently, will be about the Maccabean revolt.
Chava is a Hebrew in Alexandria, Egypt. Her father, Daniel, is a royal tutor and the author of the “Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs” (not in real life, but in this story). As a child and an adolescent, Chava is friends with an Egyptian princess named Urbi, who will become Queen Cleopatra. Chava has a vision in which God tells her that her friendship with Urbi rests in God’s hands, that Chava will be with Urbi on Urbi’s happiest and last days, and that Chava will know herself and will bless Urbi. Chava interprets that to mean that she (Chava) is to serve Cleopatra rather than get married and have children, a view with which her father Daniel disagrees.
Well, not to give away any spoilers, but Chava’s interpretation of the vision gets disrupted by real life. I mean Radically disrupted. Chava’s charmed life comes to an end. The story took a Joseph (from the Bible) and a Ben Hur sort of turn. Cleopatra is still looming in the background, however, and Chava’s destiny will intersect with that of her childhood friend.
A salient aspect of this book is that it contains a lot of information. To quote Angela Hunt, “Egypt’s Sister is one of the most difficult books I have ever written, not because I lacked material, but because I had so much.” There is, of course, the story of Cleopatra: her rise to power, her political struggles, and her international intrigue. Hunt provides charming descriptions of the city of Alexandria and the distinct elements of Alexandrian culture. She talks about what slavery was like and how Roman society regarded slaves, Roman views on sex and marriage, and the attempts of Jews to live according to their laws in a world that had contrary worldviews and policies.
The book did read like a textbook at times, but I actually liked that, since such an approach educated me, in areas, and would probably educate others as well. This approach did not detract from the story, either, for Hunt struck a balance between telling and showing, and she presented compelling historical protagonists responding emotionally and realistically to the events of which they were a part. Moreover, Hunt did not simply relay information but engaged it thoughtfully. Daniel, for example, offered Cleopatra advice on political strategy when she was learning the ropes.
Some of what Hunt presents is debated by historians. She covers some debates in the appendix, but a debate that she did not mention concerns whether Josephus was correct that Julius Caesar granted the Jews of Alexandria citizenship because they helped him take over Egypt. Hunt assumes that he was, but scholars have questioned and challenged that view.
Not to give away spoilers, but I am conflicted over how believable one of the character’s motivations were when she made a specific decision, in light of what Hunt says about ancient views on sex and marriage. From a certain perspective, though, the rationale that Hunt provides for that decision makes a degree of sense.
I am giving this book five stars for two reasons. First, there is the information. I have not read every Christian work of biblical fiction, but, of all the ones that I have read, Egypt’s Sister is the most informative. It also has a bibliography. Second, there is the story. The most moving theme, in my opinion, concerned how one could be hardened by the challenges of political life, and yet still have some humanity that remains.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.