Khanh the Killjoy

Mara, Daughter of the Nile

Mara, Daughter of the Nile - Eloise Jarvis McGraw "Then the stars went out, for the bark of Ra, in fiery splendor, burst out of the East. Sunshine flooded the wide desert and the long, green valley of the Nile. The night was over; a new day has dawned for the land of Egypt."Generally, I do not reread books. I have a short attention span, I constantly seek novelty, and once a book or a film has been watched, even if I greatly enjoyed it, I will never reach for it again. There are only a few books that I enjoy rereading, Mara, Daughter of the Nile has been one I have reached for repeatedly since I first read it and fell in love with it as a 12-year old girl. A few years ago, I donated a enormous amount of books after reluctantly admitting to myself that I will never touch them again after the initial reading: this book still occupies a place on my currently tiny and trimmed-down collection of paperbacks, and it's going nowhere.Call it nostalgia, if you will, but this is such a lovely little book, and it has occupied a dear space in my heart ever since. This is a solidly middle-grade novel, but I find that a great middle-grade novel is a wonderful thing. They are so essential to hook in a young reader and instill in them a love of reading that lasts a lifetime. These books have themes, they have believable, loveable, flawed characters. There's no psychoanalysis required of the characters, but they send such an important message to a young reader: you can be better than you think, you can be a good person, you can aim for higher than what you believe yourself capable. A small person can make a difference.The story is simple, the plot is straightforward. There is no overwhelming theme here of existence, no aspirations to grandeur, yet I love it just the same. I do confess to being a great fan of Ancient Egypt. The mythology, the people, the history; while I have read many books within this setting, telling stories of such exalted characters as Cleopatra, Nefertiti, King Tutankhamen, this wee book remains my favorite in the sadly rare genre of Egyptian fiction.Mara is a slave, she was not always one, but that has been her life for as long as she can remember. She is a foreign-born slave, captured with her late mother; Mara has blue eyes, which is reviled and feared by her master, and is different from most slaves in that she has been previously educated in reading and writing. She also has a more valuable commodity: the ability to speak Babylonian. It is for this purpose that Queen Hatshepsut's man initially buys her; she is to spy upon Prince Thutmose through his future bride. Mara is to play the interpreter for Princess the Canaanite princess, Inanni.Through a twist of fate, Mara ends up playing the unwilling double agent, with none the wiser. She ends up being a pawn for Lord Sheftu, who is working secretly in support of placing Prince Thutmose on the throne in place of his devious, destructive pharaoh sister, Queen Hatshepsut.Mara has no choice. She cannot reveal her role to either. To do so would be to risk death, truly, for the life of a slave is worth absolutely nothing to such powerful and wealthy men. Eventually, though, Mara has to choose a side, and one of her masters will prove himself to be a truly idealistic man, who is working towards a better future for Egypt. To get to her happy ending, Mara must rely on her own wits throughout the intrigue, throughout the danger. She has to overcome her own prejudices, and decide whether luxury and freedom is preferable to doing what she knows is right...despite the fact that it could cost her everything, including her life.I loved Mara's determination. Yes, she is selfish initially, but this is a girl who has been a slave, mistreated, ill-fed, feared for her freakish colored eyes, of all things. She has endured hardship, beating, and so when she is given a chance at freedom, she takes it. And boy does she love what that little taste of freedom has to bring. "[The clothes] were not too lavish...but to her it was unimaginable luxury. And as she shook the garments out one by one and looked at them, she felt again the fierce determination that nothing, nobody must stand in the way of her possessing such things always, freedom and gold and a life worth living---gardens with lotus blooming in the fishpool...rows and rows of papyrus scrolls on the shelves in a beautiful room.So she dreamed."Mara is not perfect; despite being a slave, she feels herself to be a true Egyptian, and looks down upon the foreign princess Inanni. Mara is patronizing towards Inanni's full figure, which is admired by her people, but reviled by the Egyptians, who prefer a slim silhouette. Inanni's strange clothes, her customs, her fear towards anything Egyptian is viewed condescendingly by the haughty Mara. Eventually, Mara grows to realize her own faults, and realizes that she has been underestimating her princess' strengths. There is some romance in here, nothing too steamy, nothing inappropriate at all for the middle-grade audience. It grows step by step, there is no insta-love, as enemies grow to be friends, and then perhaps something more.I absolutely loved the bits of Egyptian culture in this book. The descriptions of food, of customs, of cosmetics and clothing, of daily minutiae. I don't find that the adult novels of this nature does so well in the descriptions of little details as this one did. The writing is beautiful, the speech pattern is strange, in some way, but does not feel out of place in this setting; I actually really loved the formal, slightly archaic quality of the speech in this book. The descriptions are beautifully described, in the way that Eloise McGraw does so well in all her children's books.Highly recommended for anyone, of any age.