"The author imagines a titillating paradise within the pharaoh's walls and makes a compelling case for [young Moses] caught between the faith of his Hebrew mother and his adoptive family's aesthetics and beliefs," wrote PW in our Best Books citation. Ages 10-up. (Feb.) n Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Lester (To Be a Slave) creates a captivating story and a compelling portrait of a Moses torn between two cultures, from the time of his discovery in the bulrushes to his solo flight to Midian. A brief introduction explains that the author has "removed Moses from sacred history and [has] sought to put him into human history"; thus he changes "Moses" to "Mosis" (meaning "is born," a shortened form of the Egyptian name "Tuthmosis") and plants the seed for the spiritual conflict that begins to grow within the great would-be leader. In a prologue, narrated by the eponymous heroine, Mosis confesses that he has just murdered an Egyptian. Lester immediately grabs readers' attention and goes about answering the resounding question posed at the prologue's end: "Why, Mosis?" The author plants many surprises along the way. To begin with, the titular heroine is not Meryetamun, daughter of the pharaoh Ramesses the Great, who takes the baby from the bulrushes. Instead, she is Mosis's sister, Almah (Lester carefully documents his logic in creating her character), an independent thinker whose scholarly father taught her the Egyptian language of Khemetian. Her fearlessness and honesty when she meets the princess leads to Mosis's--and all male Habiru (Hebrew) babies'--imminent salvation and results in her and Mosis's adoption into the pharaoh's family. Through impeccably researched details, Lester imagines a titillating paradise within the pharaoh's palace walls. He appeals to all five senses as he evokes the exotic smells, sounds, costumes, jewelry and worship practices the girl discovers there. Readers witness for themselves why Almah and Mosis are inexorably torn between the faith of their Habiru mother (who remains in the palace for Mosis's early childhood) and the Khemetian aesthetics and beliefs. Almah's narration in part one describes her tantalizing seduction into the Khemetian way of life. Her perspective provides the perfect contrast to Mosis's narration in part two; she possesses the ability to respect both sides and to choose what she believes to be right, while he lives in confusion until he is forced to make a choice. Mosis's pain is palpable as he describes his betrayal by the men in the palace to whom he felt closest. The murder that begins the novel is transformed, by the conclusion, into an act of love. By painting the Khemetian and Habiru cultures as equally compelling, Lester reenacts an ancient society completely interdependent, with power struggles as potent as any in the modern world. Here Mosis has not reached the Red Sea; he is a young man of faith and doubt, as human as readers themselves. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Lester uses midrash, the Jewish tradition of exploring a text through one's imagination, in portraying the life of Mosis (Moses). The first half of the novel is told by Almah, the biological sister of Mosis who becomes the adopted daughter of the Pharaoh Ramesses. Almah recounts the events surrounding the placement of Mosis in the bulrushes and adoption by Princess Meryetamun, daughter of Ramesses. Almah becomes a privileged member of the court and ultimately forsakes her family's Hebraic beliefs to become an Egyptian priestess. Fifteenyear-old Mosis, who has spent nearly his entire life as a cherished member of the Pharaoh's family, then narrates the second half of the novel. Upheaval in the court results in Mosis' decision to defend "his people," who have been slave laborers for Ramesses. Forced to kill a highranking court advisor to protect Almah, Mosis escapes to the desert. Almah's voice returns in an epilogue that explains the court intrigue and current exile of Mosis. Lester has created a multilayered story with many wonderful characters. The parentchild difficulties seen in the relationships of Almah and her mother, Ima, and of Meryetamun and Pharaoh Ramesses add to the story's depth. Comingofage elements mix with mystery and history to create a compelling tale. Lester's attention to detail brings Egypt during the reign of Ramesses vividly to life with images of cobras, crocodiles, gods and goddesses, and slave labor. Readers might be challenged by the multiple roles of Almah, Meryetamun, and Ima, as well as by some of the Hebraic spellings. Lester's introduction states that the writing of Pharaoh's Daughter involved him "intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually" and thathebecame enthralled with ancient Egypt. Readers will become equally involved in and enthralled by this highly recommended title. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, Silver Whistle/Harcourt, Ages 12 to 18, 192p, $17. Reviewer: Maura Bresnahan
Julius Lester, author of more than twenty-five books for children and young adults, has described his approach to historical fiction as focusing on the human emotions of people who have had no voice: "History is not just facts and events," he wrote in the introduction to the thirtieth-anniversary re-issue of To Be a Slave, "history is also a pain in the heart, and we repeat history until we are able to make another's pain in the heart our own." This emphasis on the heart of a story, as well as Lester's penchant for using writing to articulate the voices of the dead, underlie the success of Pharoah's Daughter, the first book in an intended trilogy about the life of Moses. Recognizing that his work will vie with the cultural constructions of Moses portrayed in The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt, Lester uses the Jewish tradition of midrashexploring and extending sacred text through imaginationby crafting a detailed, personal story based on Exodus 2:8: "And the daughter of Pharaoh said to her, 'Go,' and the young girl of marriageable age went and called the mother of the child." The prologue sets a stage that shatters any expectation of Charlton Heston raising his staff to part the Red Sea: Mosis (spelled as a shortened form of Tuthmosis) is a fifteen-year-old in trouble, his sister, and a woman identified as Batya are trying to understand and help him. The central crises one expects to find in young adult novelsidentity, family relationships, uncertainty about the future, puberty, clarification of beliefs and valuesare worked into the tapestry of this story as naturally as are the details about ancient Egypt, the gods Ya and Amon-Re, thelong-standing animosity and confusion between the Khemetians and Habiru people. The first part of the novel is narrated by Mosis' older sister, Almah, when she is twelve years old. Her story moves from her life as a Habiru in Goshen to her acceptance as a pharaoh's daughter in Pi-Ramesses, a transition that involves not only a movement away from her family but a significant religious conversion. The second part of the novel is narrated by Mosis himself as a teenager, telling of his life as the adopted grandson of the Khemetian pharaoh, Ramesses. Much of his story, like Almah's, examines the questions of identity that arise from his straddling two different cultures. The novel ends with Mosis in exile, Almahnow a priestess and confidante of the pharaohmourning his absence but relieved to know that he is safe. In telling this story, Lester successfully wrestles with two difficult issues in writing for children: how does one tell the story of another culture to children, and how might one tell a story about faith to child readers from many cultures. It is here that Lester beautifully relies on both his personal and professional identities. As a scholarhe is a distinguished professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at the University of Massachusetts at AmherstLester is careful to research his subject thoroughly, assuring that even the invented conversations are consistent with the time period. Since the ancient Egyptians had no concept of time briefer than an hour, Lester explains in his Author's Note, he was careful not to include phrases such as, "just a minute." Lester seems to trust his own experiences as a person, however, in resolving the difficult question of writing about religious belief. The son of a Methodist minister, Lester was a political activist in the 1960s who converted to Judaism in 1982. In the introduction to Pharaoh's Daughter, he explains that "writing this novel became another journey into understanding who I was as I made the transition from my fifties and into my sixties," another lesson about having "the courage to be who you are." A twenty-first-century man can write about the identity crises of Almah and Mosis because he understands the heart of their stories: issues of faith are complex, the history of two peoples multi-layered, the answer "I don't know" often the best response one can muster. The story works because the writer presents the ka as well as the factual history of his subject, because he respects and is fascinated by the human dimension of the historical figures that may seem as flat and undecipherable to us as hieroglyphs. Even readers who know the sacred texts cannot read this book without waiting for the next, without feeling the pain of Almah's heart as she wonders what will happen to Mosis. 2000, Silver Whistle/Harcourt, $17.00. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Virginia Schaefer Carroll The Five Owls, May/June 2000 (Vol. 14 No. 5)
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, May 2000: Lester is an award-winning author for YAs who is a professor at the University of Massachusetts; among other subjects, he teaches Judaic Studies. So it is with great personal interest and scholarship that he retells this ancient story of Moses in the bulrushes. His own curiosity led him to wonder about the character of the Egyptian daughter of Pharaoh who adopted Moses; he also examines the Hebrew in the Torah once again and explains that the sister of Moses guarding the baby was not named in the passage, although Miriam is a sister of Moses identified elsewhere. Lester asks, "Could there be another sister of Moses?" This sister, Almad, is the main narrator in Lester's story. It is she who describes the family's first contacts with the royal family, namely the princess Meryetamun, who becomes more and more drawn to Moses' family and to the Hebrew God, Ya. In contrast, Moses' sister Almad feels much more spiritually attuned to the Egyptian deities, especially the goddesses, and eventually becomes a priestess with a special relationship to the pharaoh Ramses. Moses, growing from an infant to a 15-year-old in this story, reflects the identity crisis played out in his own family, both his biological family and his adopted one. Moses doesn't know whether he is Hebrew or Egyptian, nor does he know which gods he wants to worship. His murder of the Egyptian becomes the catalyst in this dramatic story that forces all the characters to commit to one side of the conflict or the other. There is nothing simplistic about this complicated narrative. Based on years of research and personal interest, the novel carefully reconstructsEgyptian palace life, the work of the Hebrews and their position in Egypt, and both groups' religious practices and beliefs. The format of the narrative requires some attention: the prologue is at the time of the murder; Part One is Almad's tale of how she and Moses got to the palace 15 years before; Part Two is Moses' story as a 15-year-old, culminating in the description of the murder; an Epilogue is narrated by Almad some time after Moses' escape. Students with an interest in ancient Egypt and/or Jewish history will be fascinated by Lester's story. The cover art on this paperback edition is appealing. Category: Paperback Fiction. KLIATT Codes: JS*Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2000, HarperTrophy, 182p. bibliog., ?? Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; KLIATT SOURCE: KLIATT, March 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 2)
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-When Meryetamun, the daughter of the Pharaoh, rescues one of the Habiru baby boys condemned to death and takes him to raise as her son, his sister Almah goes with them to live in the palace. Attracting the attention of the Pharaoh because of her resemblance to his dead wife Nefertari, Almah is declared his daughter, displacing Meryetamun. At the same time, the princess finds herself increasingly at home among the Habiru people. This rich and fascinating retelling of the well-known tale found in Exodus makes clear Lester's view of the complex nature of the relationship of Khemetians (Egyptians) and Habiru (Hebrews). First told in the voice of Almah and later in the voice of Mosis, the story moves inexorably toward the point at which the young people must decide who they really are. While in some cases characters seem to change without sufficient reason, Almah and Mosis are convincing in their struggle to find their identity. Almah, who becomes a priestess of Eset and dances naked at the festivals, is clearly the same person who, as a child, spontaneously removed her dress each morning to receive the life-giving rays of the rising sun. Mosis, slow in speech and unsure of what he wants, is moved to action only when he is rejected by those whose approval he seeks. Lester has moved well beyond the Cecil B. DeMille view of ancient Egypt and re-created with the great care of a scholar a place, a time, and two cultures that ultimately we can only imagine, but the questions he raises about identity, loyalty, and religion are as familiar today as they were thousands of years ago.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
From the Publisher
star "A captivating story and a compelling portrait of a Moses torn between two cultures."--Publishers Weekly (starred)
"A multilayered story with many wonderful characters . . . highly recommended."--VOYA (5Q--highest rating)
star "A richly textured novel of feelings and ideas."--Kirkus Reviews (starred)
Children's Literature - Misty Soles
In this historical novel, Lester presents a fictionalized account of how Moses came to live in the palace of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II. Lester tells the story through the first-person narration of Moses's sister, Almah, whom Lester invents. But through his own primary source analysis, Lester believes that it is possible that Moses had a sister besides Miriam who might have been the adopted daughter of the Pharaoh who found him and brought him back to the palace. One day Almah encounters the daughter of the Pharaoh. The princess offers to adopt baby Moses as her own and Almah as her sister. The book chronicles their lives in the palace, where many are jealous of their good fortune. Julius Lester has written this novel in an engaging manner with compelling characters and an interesting plot. Almah and the princess will undoubtedly appeal to youthful female readers, and their process of physical and emotional maturation constitutes a key element of the novel. Lester includes an abundance of accurate historical and cultural elements, and the book also includes a helpful glossary that explains key Egyptian and Jewish words and concepts, which would make it helpful in a social studies class. Reviewer: Misty Soles
Read an Excerpt
Year 15 of the Reign of Ramesses The Great,
1stmonth of Akhet
My parents talked in the darkness for a long time, their voices moving in and out of my sleep like the back of a hippopotamus rising and sinking in the Great Hapi. Abba, Father, spoke softly and slowly, while Ima, Mother, talked rapidly, as if she had to get all the words out before she forgot them. My brother Aharon, and sister, Miryam, are seven and four and hear nothing, not even the sounds of their own sleep. My baby brother, Yekutiel, is barely three months old. He sleeps through everything.
I am Almah, and I used to sleep like Yekutiel, but now that I am twelve I lie awake in the darkness. Something is wrong. Every evening after Abba comes home from working on the pharaoh's temple in Pi-Ramesses, men come to talk. My father is named Amram, and he is a leader of our people, the Habiru, "the people from the other side." ("The other side of what?" I asked him once. He said we have a land of our own, and one day our. god, Ya, will send a redeemer who will lead us out of Khemet and into our land. Abba said that in our land the rivers flow with milk and honey. When I Asked, "What is a redeemer and when is he coming?" he looked away.) Abba and the men talk long into the darkness, but their voices are low and I cannot hear their words. Yesterday I asked Ima what they were talking about. She looked at me as if I were bad luck that had come to life.
I get up when I see the blackness on the ceiling change to gray. Miryam has a leg-on top of mine, an arm flung across my chest. Aharon lies pressed against me on the other side. Abba snores softly. Gently Imove Miryam's arm and leg and get up. She and Aharon do not waken, but they sense I am leaving and move closer to each other. Aharon has only a little while longer to sleep before it will be time for him to get up and go with Abba to work in Pi-Ramesses.
Rubbing my eyes I walk into the kitchen and get the water jar. I go out the back door, past the bread oven built against the house, through the doorway in the wall, and into the narrow street. Pale pink tinges the eastern sky where the sun will rise.
Our house is on the comer of the Street of the Serpent and the Street of the River, at the farthest end of the village. It faces the Great Hapi, though at a safe distance. The river has started rising, which means the new year has begun. In Khemetian it is called the season of Akhet. The river will rise until it threatens to flow over the top of the road that protects us. That has never happened, though. But for almost two months it will be as if we are living next to the Great Green Sea. Then slowly, so slowly that we will not notice at first, the river will return to its bed and leave behind the thick black mud in which we will plant.
Other girls and women walk by me, water jars atop their heads like hair piled high, on their first of many trips to the river for water. Though one or two glance at me, they do not speak.
Instead of following them, I cross the street to a small path and disappear among the canebrake and the long sharp leaves of the papyri that tower above me. The birds send warning calls from the tops of the papyri. I would think they would know me by now.
Eventually I come to a stream, one of the branches of the Great Hapi where the river is not as wide or deep. The others are afraid to come here for water. Because of the snakes. They say I come here because I think I am better than anybody else and don't want to be around them. ("Who cares if you can speak Kbemetian? If you were a real Habiru, you would not speak the language of people who bate us.") I tried to explain that it is quiet here and that I like the music of the silence and the music of the birds. They did not believe me. Perhaps because I was not telling the truth.
I look carefully for any snakes or crocodiles that might be hiding in the thick bulrushes. Then, looking around once more to be sure no one is watching, I take off my dress and face the sun. It seems to be reaching for me through the papyri as its warmth pours over my newswelling breasts and the wispy hair that says I am becoming a woman.
This is the real reason I come here for water. I have never told anyone. It is my secret. Mine and the sun's. I raise my arms high over my head and move them outward in a circle as if I am holding the sun, but it does not bum me because Hove it and it loves me. I close my eyes and tongues of warmth cover my body. I think I could stand here like this for the rest of my life.
However, sooner than I would like, I get nervous that someone will see me. I know they can't, but that does not matter. I force my eyes open and slip my dress on. Then I fill the jar, put it on my head, and start for home... Pharaoh's Daughter. Copyright © by Julius Lester. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.