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.
By Sholem Asch
Trans. Maurice Samuel
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
1951 #3 bestseller
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
1949 Bestseller # 1
My Grade: C-