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Ancient Evenings

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Norman Mailer’s dazzlingly rich, deeply evocative novel of ancient Egypt breathes life into the figures of a lost era: the eighteenth-dynasty Pharaoh Rameses and his wife, Queen Nefertiti; Menenhetet, their creature, lover, and victim; and the gods and mortals that surround them in intimate and telepathic communion. Mailer’s reincarnated protagonist is carried through the exquisite gardens of the royal harem, along the majestic flow of the Nile, and into the terrifying clash of battle. An extraordinary work of ...

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Ancient Evenings: A Novel

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Overview

Norman Mailer’s dazzlingly rich, deeply evocative novel of ancient Egypt breathes life into the figures of a lost era: the eighteenth-dynasty Pharaoh Rameses and his wife, Queen Nefertiti; Menenhetet, their creature, lover, and victim; and the gods and mortals that surround them in intimate and telepathic communion. Mailer’s reincarnated protagonist is carried through the exquisite gardens of the royal harem, along the majestic flow of the Nile, and into the terrifying clash of battle. An extraordinary work of inventiveness, Ancient Evenings lives on in the mind long after the last page has been turned.
 
Praise for Ancient Evenings
 
“Astounding, beautifully written . . . a leap of imagination that crosses three millennia to Pharaonic Egypt.”USA Today
 
“Mailer makes a miraculous present out of age-deep memories, bringing to life the rhythms, the images, the sensuousness of a lost time.”The New York Times
 
“Mailer’s Egypt is a haunting and magical place. . . . The reader wallows in the scope, depth, the sheer magnitude and—yes—the fertility of his imagination.”The Washington Post Book World
 
“An enormous pyramid of a novel [reminiscent of] Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and Carlos Fuentes’s Terra Nostra.”Los Angeles Herald Examiner
 
Praise for Norman Mailer
 
“[Norman Mailer] loomed over American letters longer and larger than any other writer of his generation.”The New York Times
 
“A writer of the greatest and most reckless talent.”The New Yorker
 
“Mailer is indispensable, an American treasure.”The Washington Post
 
“A devastatingly alive and original creative mind.”Life
 
“Mailer is fierce, courageous, and reckless and nearly everything he writes has sections of headlong brilliance.”The New York Review of Books
 
“The largest mind and imagination [in modern] American literature . . . Unlike just about every American writer since Henry James, Mailer has managed to grow and become richer in wisdom with each new book.”Chicago Tribune
 
“Mailer is a master of his craft. His language carries you through the story like a leaf on a stream.”The Cincinnati Post

A momumental work, this is Mailer's mammoth journey to the land of the Pharaohs and slumbering tombs of ancient life and death.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Ancient Evenings
 
“Astounding, beautifully written . . . a leap of imagination that crosses three millennia to Pharaonic Egypt.”USA Today
 
“Mailer makes a miraculous present out of age-deep memories, bringing to life the rhythms, the images, the sensuousness of a lost time.”The New York Times
 
“Mailer’s Egypt is a haunting and magical place. . . . The reader wallows in the scope, depth, the sheer magnitude and—yes—the fertility of his imagination.”The Washington Post Book World
 
“An enormous pyramid of a novel [reminiscent of] Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and Carlos Fuentes’s Terra Nostra.”Los Angeles Herald Examiner
 
Praise for Norman Mailer
 
“[Norman Mailer] loomed over American letters longer and larger than any other writer of his generation.”The New York Times
 
“A writer of the greatest and most reckless talent.”The New Yorker
 
“Mailer is indispensable, an American treasure.”The Washington Post
 
“A devastatingly alive and original creative mind.”Life
 
“Mailer is fierce, courageous, and reckless and nearly everything he writes has sections of headlong brilliance.”The New York Review of Books
 
“The largest mind and imagination [in modern] American literature . . . Unlike just about every American writer since Henry James, Mailer has managed to grow and become richer in wisdom with each new book.”Chicago Tribune
 
“Mailer is a master of his craft. His language carries you through the story like a leaf on a stream.”The Cincinnati Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316544108
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 4/1/1983
  • Pages: 800

Meet the Author

Norman Mailer

Born in 1923 in Long Branch, New Jersey, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Norman Mailer was one of the most influential writers of the second half of the twentieth century and a leading public intellectual for nearly sixty years. He is the author of more than thirty books. The Castle in the Forest, his last novel, was his eleventh New York Times bestseller. His first novel, The Naked and the Dead, has never gone out of print. His 1968 nonfiction narrative, The Armies of the Night, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He won a second Pulitzer for The Executioner’s Song and is the only person to have won Pulitzers in both fiction and nonfiction. Five of his books were nominated for National Book Awards, and he won a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation in 2005. Mr. Mailer died in 2007 in New York City.

Biography

One of the most provocative authors of the 20th century, Norman Mailer stood at the forefront of the New Journalism, a form of creative nonfiction that wove autobiography, real events, and political commentary into unconventional novels. In a career that spanned nearly 60 years, he wrote more than 30 books, including The Naked and the Dead; The Armies of the Night,, for which he won a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; The Executioner's Song, for which he won his second Pulitzer Prize; Harlot's Ghost; Oswald's Tale; The Gospel According to the Son; and his last novel, The Castle in the Forest, a chilling fictional portrait of the youthful Adolf Hitler. On November 10, 2007, he died of renal failure, leaving behind an astonishing literary legacy.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Nachem Malech Mailer
      Norman Mailer
    2. Hometown:
      Provincetown, Massachusetts, and New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 31, 1923
    2. Place of Birth:
      Long Branch, New Jersey
    1. Date of Death:
      November 10, 2007

Read an Excerpt

One

The darkness was deep. Yet I had no doubt. I was in an underground chamber ten paces in length by half in width, and I even knew (just as quickly as a bat) that the room was all but empty. Stone was the surface of the walls and the floor. As if I could see with my fingers, I had only to wave an arm to feel the size of the space beyond my reach. It was exactly so remarkable as to hear voices by the hairs of one’s nose. For that matter, I could smell the scent of stone. Say that an absence was in the air, some hollow that dwelt within another hollow. Now I was aware of a granite coffer near to me, as aware, indeed, of its presence as if my body had walked within—it was huge enough to be my bed! But a step away, as if on guard, were some aged droppings on the floor, pellets from a small fierce animal who had managed like myself to find its way here, and left its deposit and gone. For there was no skeleton to speak of the beast. Just the scent of some old urine-­cursed­ dung— But where was the passage by which the animal could have entered? I breathed in the horror that comes when the air is close with an animal’s mean excrement. That has its own message to give!

Yet, I could also recognize a pure bouquet of fresh night air that had chosen to enter this chamber. Had it come from a shaft in the rock used by the cat?

In the dark, between two blocks of stone, my fingers soon found a niche not much greater in width than a man’s head. Still, by its fresh breath, it must lead outside. The air that arrived through the shaft was only a whisper, not strong enough to stir one hair on a feather, but it offered the cool of the desert when the sun has been down for much of the night. Toward that cool murmur, I stretched, and to my surprise was able to follow my arm up the niche. It was a long shaft between great blocks of stone, and in places seemed no wider than my head, but it went in a straight line at a steep angle upward, a filthy trip. The dead shells of countless beetles cluttered my way. Ants went by my skin. Rats piped in high terror. Still, I climbed with no panic, only in surprise at the narrow dimensions of this passage. Surely I was not able to make my way through—it was hardly larger than the burrow of a snake—yet I might as well have been without shoulders or hips. Cunning was in my touch as if, like a snake, there was no fear of being caught in the passage ahead. I was capable of becoming narrower. But that is no better than to say I traveled with my thoughts through the long narrow shaft, my body sufficiently supple to obey—a most peculiar sensation. I felt altogether alive. The whisper of the air before me had phosphorescence. Particles of light glowed in my nose and throat. I was more alive than I could ever remember and yet felt no yoke of muscle and bone. It was as if I had been reduced to the size of a small boy.

When I lay at last near the mouth of the passage, my view was of the sky at the end of the shaft and moonlight slanted over the edge. As I rested, the moon passed full into view and anointed me. From orchards in the distance came a scent of date and fig trees, and the clear refreshment of the vines. The air on this night gave intimations to me of gardens where once I made love. I knew again the smell of rose and jasmine. Far below, by the riverbank, the palms by the shore would be black in outline against the silver water of the river.

So I came out at last from the end of the shaft in that great hill of stone. I stuck my head and shoulders into the open night, pulled through my legs, and gasped. Beneath the light of the moon was a long white slope of stone with the earth far below, but out there on the plateau of the desert, mute as a mountain of silver, there at the end of my gaze, was a Pyramid. Beyond it, another. Nearer to me, all but covered in sand, was a stone lion with the head of a man. I was perched on the slope of the Great Pyramid! I had just been—it could be nowhere else—in the burial chamber of the Pharaoh Khufu.

Harsh as the sound of a man’s snore was the name of Khufu. He was gone a thousand years, and more. Yet, at the thought of having been in His tomb, my body was too weak to move. The sarcophagus of Khufu had been empty. His tomb had been found and robbed!

I thought my heart would strike its last sound. My stomach had never felt so pure a slop of cowardice. Yet I was a man of valor, as I seemed to remember, perhaps a soldier, renowned for something—so, I could swear—all the same, I could not move a step. In shame I shivered beneath the moon. There I was, on the slope of our greatest Pyramid, moonlight on my head and heart, the statue of the immense lion below, and the Pyramids of the Pharaoh Khaef-­ra­ and the Pha­raoh Men-­kau-­ra to the south. To the east, I saw the moon on the Nile and far to the south, I even saw the last of the lights in the lamps of Memphi where mistresses were waiting for me. Or were they waiting for another by now? I was so reduced as to think it did not matter. Had I ever had a thought like this before?—I, whose first fear used to be that I was too ready to kill any man who looked at my woman? How exhausted I felt. Was this the price I paid for entering the tomb of Khufu? In gloom, I began to make my way down, sliding from crack to crack in the limestone, and knew some foul change had taken place in me already. My memory, which had given every promise (in the first glow of moonlight) that it would return, was still a sludge. Now the air was heavy with the odor of mud. That was the aroma of these lands, mud and barley, sweat and husbandry. By noon tomorrow, the riverbank would be an oven of moldering reeds. Domestic animals would leave their gifts on the mud of the bank—sheep and pigs, goats, asses, oxen, dogs and cats, even the foul odor of the goose, a filthy bird. I thought of tombs, and of friends in tombs. Like the plucking of a heavy string came a first intimation of sorrow.

Two

I was in the most peculiar situation. I still did not know who I was, nor how old I might be. Was I mature and powerful, or young and in the beginning of my strength? It hardly seemed to matter. I shrugged, and began to walk, taking, for whatever reason, a path through the Necropolis, and as I meandered, I began to explain to myself what I saw, or so I would put it, for I felt in the oddest position, and like a stranger to my own everyday knowledge.

Before me, I must say, was no more to see than the straight streets of this cemetery in the moonlight, a view without great charm, unless there is charm to be found in high value. Cubit for cubit, the city of the dead had the dearest plots in all of Memphi, or at least that is what I certainly remember.

Wandering down the alleys of our monotonous Necropolis, sauntering past the shuttered door of one tomb, then another, I began—for no reason I could give—to think of a friend who had died recently, the dearest of my friends, this memory seemed to say, and the most absurd and violent death. Now, I had no more than to wonder whether his tomb was anywhere near about, and was visited with more recollections. My friend, I was ready to think, came from a powerful family. His father, if I could recall, had once served as Overseer of the Cosmetic Box—I would die, I thought, before lusting after such titles myself. Still, that was not a career to be sneered at altogether. Our Ramses, if I remembered correctly, was as vain as a beautiful girl, and detested any flaw in His appearance.

Of course, with such a father, my friend (whose name, I fear, still eluded me) was certainly wealthy and noble. Poor entombed bugger! He must be, at the least, a descendant of the great Ramses, yes, the one, I could recall, who died something like a hundred years ago, our own Ramses the Second. He had ended as a very old man with a great many wives and more than a hundred recorded sons and fifty daughters. They produced ancestors in such numbers that today you cannot begin to estimate how many officers and priests are Ramessides by at least half of their line. For truth, hardly a rich woman in Memphi or Thebes will fail to offer one bona-­fide­ cheek of her buttocks, royal as the Pharaohs, and she will not fail to let you know. To be descended from Ramses the Second may not be exceptional, but it is ­indispensable—at least if she wants a family plot in the Necropolis. Then, she had better be, at least by half, a Ramesside. In fact, you cannot even buy a tomb in the Western Shade if you are not, and that is only the first requirement in such commerce among Memphi matrons. There are not enough plots. So they go to great lengths. For instance, the mother of my dead friend, the matron Hathfertiti, was always prepared to trade. If the price was good enough, the sarcophagus of an ancestor could be transferred to an inferior tomb, or even shipped downriver to another necropolis. Of course one had to ask: Who was the deceased? How substantial was his curse? That was the unspoken part of the transaction—you had to be ready to take on a few malevolent oaths. But some were ready to welcome them if they were terrible enough to bring the price down. For example, Hathfertiti had been bold enough to sell the tomb of her dead grandfather. Concerning this dead relative, her husband’s grandfather (who happened incidentally to be her own grandfather since she was certainly her husband’s sister) it was told to the buyer that old man Menenhetet had been the kindest and most benign of men. His vice was that he could not harm his enemies. His curse need hardly be feared. What torture of the truth! In secret, it was whispered that Menenhetet had been known to eat fried scorpions with bat dung—just so great was his need to protect himself against the curses of the powerful. He had had a mighty life, I seemed to remember.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2008

    The Ancient Scurge of Egypt Needs A Purge

    This is a long novel that has been meticulously researched, neither length or preparation makes for a great book. The many incarnations of the principal character are a big yawn and the sprawling and meandering passages between the action sequences are pure boredom. I never really became absorbed in the novel, although I found the details of life in ancient Egypt interesting. It must have been easier to get published when this book was printed compared to today's standards due to the erratic economy and other factors and had this novel been submitted now by an unknown, it wouldn't be given a second glance. It makes one wonder if this book was published only because it was by Normal Mailer? This book is overblown and bloated and needs a good enema.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2005

    Turgid, Pompous, Bloated, Pointless

    I'd rather stick a hook up my nose and drag my brains out than have to read this again. There are some novels that sizzle and stimulate like psychical champagne, Ancient Evenings is more like a cement milkshake. Everything else by Mailer that I've read I have enjoyed, and I was amazed by the brilliance of The Naked and the Dead, but Ancient Evenings did not move me at all. Still, other folk seem to dig it, so give it a try if you think you have the stamina.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2003

    A Masterpiece

    This is the best fiction book I have ever read. A real masterpiece of human genius. It is like an ancient sculpture, touching every corner of my soul. It is a book speaking to :feeling, sensing, thinking and intuition of the reader. It embraces Life not through cold intellect alone but through the senses. It is so coherent, that anybody who has ever had any experiences of the collective unconsciousness will recognize the story as True.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2002

    Breathtaking. Brilliant.

    Mailer employs all his gifts as a writer to stunning effect. Through the reincarnations of Menenhetet you experience his lives through the seven components of his `ka`. Mailer blends sexual imaginery, magic, epic battles and betrayals into a profound work of creative fiction. The pinnacle of this achievement is the awe inspiring Journey through the Duad

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2000

    Ridiculous

    What's the point? As noted in the synopsis above, it's the story of a man's four reincarnated lives. There's no linear continuity; it jumps around and leaves one with no idea what's going on or what order things are actually transpiring in. Are other lives remembered? Is the character dead and remembering life vividly, or having premonitions of death? Repleat with homoerotic and incestuous fantasies, this is high fantasy meets masturbation in a liberally 'historical' setting. At the end of the book, you wonder why you struggled through something as ponderous as Joyce's Ulysses and twice as thick, for so little payoff. There is no moment that redeems this work, no character that you come to love or hate. Moreover, I don't think there's any moral or transcendental significance...it's just a lot of typing. It's terrible (sorry, Norman).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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