The Key to Rebecca

 a woman's photo, swastika are opposite ends of a key
Photo within the key shows woman with mask over her mouth

You’ve seen the plot of The Key to Rebecca in a dozen movies. It’s a World War II thriller with the bad guys coming within a hair’s breadth of beating the good guys.

In Key, the really bad guy is Alex Wolff, an European-trained Egyptian returned home to spy for the Germans.

Wolff’s job is to provide Field Marshall Rommel with information that will allow him to destroy the British in Egypt once and for all.

The really good guy is Major Vandam, a British officer whose knee wound sidelined him to intelligence work.

Wolff slipped up returning to Cairo and killed a man; Vandam is after him.

Vandam meets a beautiful Egyptian Jew, Elene, whom he uses to lure Wolff out where he can grab him.

Wolff has a friend and sometime sex partner, Sonja, who is the most famous belly dancer in Cairo.

He cajoles her into helping him steal documents outlining the Brits’ plan to defend Cairo.

Once he has the documents, Wolff must encode the information and transmit it to the Germans using a code based on the novel Rebecca.

Instead of reading The Key to Rebecca, read Follett’s The Eye of the Needle. It’s a far more original work.

The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett
Morrow, 1st ed. 1980. 381 p.
1980 bestseller #6. My grade: B-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Weavers an unromantic tangle of plot threads

The Weavers is a romance, but it’s mostly about David Claridge.

David leaves his English village around 1850 for Egypt, where his good looks, Quaker habits, and scrupulous honesty are novelties.


The Weavers by Gilbert Parker
1907 bestseller #2, 1908 bestseller #10. Project Gutenberg ebook #6267. My grade: C+.

Book illustration, statuary, and photograph of Spinx and pyramids
Artifacts of travels to Egypt in 19th and 20th centuries.

Prince Kaid asks David to be his right-hand man to bring European-style prosperity to Egypt.

Within five years David is “a young Joseph” to the pharaoh and the darling of the British public.

David’s favored status is resented by Egyptians who prefer the old ways of bachshesh, bribery, and brutality.

Defending an English girl from an Egyptian, David kills him with a single punch. The dead man’s brother covers up the murder, planning to use it later to make himself ruler of Egypt.

The girl goes back to England and marries a rising young politician who takes a dim view of David’s uncredentialed foreign activities.

The Weavers is chock-a-block with plots and characters, but Gilbert Parker doesn’t make any one of them believable. David himself is hardly more than a coloring book outline.

Today, The Weavers is useful primarily as a reminder of how long England has been involved in Middle Eastern affairs.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Moses Reveals Biblical Exodus Setting

In Moses, Sholem Asch presents the great Jewish leader as a human being without trivializing his spirituality.  However, the novel finest achievement is its depiction of the Jews that Moses led out of Egypt.

Asch shows the Jews as just one small segment of the huge slave population of Egypt. The Egyptians ran the slave operations through Jewish overseers, much as the Nazis were to do centuries later.  The “mixed multitude” that accompanied the Jews were from those slaves.

The story line follows the biblical narrative, adding details to explain some of the elements that often bewilder today’s readers. For example, since no slaves were allowed to worship any god, the request to go three day’s journey into the desert makes more sense. Moses leads the Jews out across the Reed Sea:  the Red Sea is miles away from the exodus route.

Asch makes readers understand how stressful the desert journey would have been to people raised in a land with abundant water and fertile soil and why they resented the Levites who seemed to get the choicest of everything.

All told, you’ll find Moses an accessible and entertaining overview of an important historical period.

Moses
By Sholem Asch
Trans. Maurice Samuel
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
1951 #3 bestseller
505 pages

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Egyptian Joins Pessimism to Pyramids

The Egyptian is a fictional memoir of the life of a physician in the days of the pharaohs. The narrator, Sinuhe, is an old man, sick of gods and kings. He says he writes for himself rather than for posterity.

Unfortunately, Mika Waltari published the “memoir,”  inflicting Sinuhe’s misery on readers for 500 pages.

Readers will find a new interesting historical bits in this novel, but it’s entertainment value is nil.

Sinuhe’s medical skills take him all over the Middle East. His specialty is brain surgery: he drills holes in people’s heads to let out the badness.

Sinuhe meets heads of countries and commanders of armies, patches up wounded soldiers, treats the poor for free. When necessity demands, he hastens the deaths of enemies of Egypt.

Back in Thebes, he sides with the party of the newly-created god, Aton, against the followers of Ammon. The religious controversy ends in wholesale slaughter.

Sinuhe is exiled to end his days living up to his name, “the One Who Is Alone.”

Waltari’s novel is packed with sex and violence related with all the passion of the police blotter. Only Sinuhe’s servants, Kaptah and Muti, feel like living people. The rest of the characters are just hieroglyphics.

The Egyptian: A Novel
By Mika Waltari
Trans. Naomi Walford
G.P. Putnan’s Sons,  1949
503 pages
1949 Bestseller # 1
My Grade: C-

© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni