You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Imajin Books (September 24, 2011)
***Special thanks to Anna Patricio for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
She undertook formal studies in Ancient History at Macquarie University. She focused mostly on Egyptology and Jewish-Christian Studies, alongside a couple of Greco-Roman units, and one on Archaeology. Though she knew there were very limited job openings for ancient history graduates, she pursued her degree anyway as it was something she had always been passionate about.
Then, about a year after her graduation, the idea to tackle historical fiction appeared in her head, and she began happily pounding away on her laptop. ASENATH is her first novel.
Recently, she traveled to Lower Egypt (specifically Cairo and the Sinai), Israel, and Jordan. She plans to return to Egypt soon, and see more of it. In the past, she has also been to Athens and Rome.
Anna is currently working on a second novel, which still takes place in Ancient Egypt, but hundreds of years after ASENATH.
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Two Destinies...One Journey of Love
In a humble fishing village on the shores of the Nile lives Asenath, a fisherman's daughter who has everything she could want. Until her perfect world is shattered.
When a warring jungle tribe ransacks the village and kidnaps her, separating her from her parents, she is forced to live as a slave. And she begins a journey that will culminate in the meeting of a handsome and kind steward named Joseph.
Like her, Joseph was taken away from his home, and it is in him that Asenath comes to find solace...and love. But just as they are beginning to form a bond, Joseph is betrayed by his master's wife and thrown into prison.
Is Asenath doomed to a lifetime of losing everything and everyone she loves?
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 222 pages
Publisher: Imajin Books (September 24, 2011)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Egypt 1554 B.C.
The Nile had just flooded, leaving the ground moist, rich and black. The children of our riverside village, I among them, frolicked about in the cool, gooey earth. In the distance, the ancient river circled the land, glittering with a thousand tiny dancing lights from the sun-god's Boat of a Million Years. A breeze blew, rustling the branches of the palm trees that surrounded our home.
No sooner had I looked than a mud ball pelted me hard across the stomach.
"I'll get you for that, Menah." I bent down to gather mud in my hands when another ball landed on my back. He was a quick one, my best friend.
I had just formed a mud ball and was about to raise my arm when Menah suddenly charged forward and pounced on me.
"Now you'll get the tickle torture," he said in a mock evil voice.
"No, Menah. Please, no." But I was overcome by uncontrollable laughter.
"Menah! Kiya!" voices called out, interrupting our playful wrestling.
Our mothers approached.
"Come out now," my mother called. "It is time to prepare for the Feast of Hapi."
Covered in mud from head to toe, Menah and I scrambled toward them.
Mama shook her head, smiling. "You're such a mess."
She led me back to our hut.
"What is going to happen tonight, Mama?" I asked. "I mean, after we pray to Hapi? Will there be games?"
Mama's blue eyes twinkled against her brown skin. "I see no reason why there shouldn't be."
"And lots of food?"
"All the food you could ever want."
"May I wear my lotus necklace today?"
Years ago, when I was very young, Mama had given me a beautiful carved lapis lazuli lotus pendant strung on a simple piece of coarse rope. She told me it had been in her family for many generations and that her grandmother had received it from Hapi himself.
She ruffled my hair. "Of course. Today is, after all, a special day."
As we entered our mud hut, which had been my home since birth, I saw my father mending one of his fisherman's nets. When he saw me, he pretended to cower in fear.
"A mud monster has entered our house."
I laughed. "It's just me, Papa."
He leaned forward and squinted, as if trying to get a good look, though the gesture was comically exaggerated. "Is it? Let me see. Ah yes, it's my little Kiya."
He leapt to his feet, picked me up and swung me around, ignoring the mud that soiled his hands. I squealed with delight.
"Nakhti," Mama said. "I have to get her ready."
"Yes." Papa set me down. He gave me a gentle slap across the back, motioning for me to return to Mama.
"I get to wear the lotus today, Papa."
He smiled. "I am sure you will look very pretty."
Later that afternoon, four priests from a nearby town passed by our village. They shouldered on poles our patron god's idol, which nestled upon a bed of water lilies. A ray of sunlight bounced off the golden image and it flashed with brilliance. Behind the god was a small train of dancing priestesses. They rattled sistrums and twirled around, their white dresses billowing out like clouds.
My fellow villagers and I were assembled outside our village, awaiting the god's arrival. When he appeared, we fell to our knees and touched our foreheads to the sandy ground.
"Glorious Hapi," my father intoned. "We thank you for once again allowing your water to flow and give life. We thank you for nourishing our land and our people. We pray your sacred pitchers never cease to flow. We thank you, great god of the Nile."
My heart swelled with pride. Papa was the most renowned fisherman in our village. Though he was quite an old man - many years older than my mother - he possessed skills and strength that surpassed even those of the younger generations. Everyone thus hailed him as the favoured of the river god.
"Praise be to you, Hapi," I echoed along with the rest of my fellow villagers.
As the idol trailed away, we rose to our feet and gathered up the amulets and flowers, which we would be tossing into the Nile as offerings. It was sunset now and sheer red-orange skies cast a fiery glow upon the river's rippling surface. From a distance, we heard the warbling of river fowl and the screeching of monkeys.
We approached the riverbank. It was still soft and muddy from the inundation. We tossed our offerings in. All the while, Papa chanted hymns of praise. Afterward, we returned to the village for what we children had been anticipating the most - the games.
A kind, respectable widow named Mekten, whom everyone called "Village Mother", held a game called the "statue dance." She played a reed flute while we danced and would stop at random moments without warning. We had to freeze as soon as the music stopped. Those who were still dancing were out of the game.
My friends and I loved it so much that Mekten held several rounds of it. Unfortunately, I always lost, as I always got so caught up in the liveliness of the game. However, she awarded me a small spinning top as a prize for being the best dancer.
I danced so much that I could barely keep my eyes open as we later sat down to the feast. Papa picked me up and carried me back to our hut. I was too tired to protest. As soon as he lay me down, I fell into a deep sleep.
That night, I dreamt I was on a great winged barque sailing along the Nile. It was a bright day, with the white-golden Egyptian sun shining gloriously and flocks of ibises and herons gleaming against the clear blue sky. A group of friendly monkeys, like those who usually wandered near my family's hut, kept me company on the deck, entertaining me with their hilarious antics.
Suddenly, the skies darkened and the water began to thrash against the barque. The monkeys leapt up and down, screeching frantically. I grabbed onto the rail.
Thunder rumbled. Fierce white waves threatened to haul us overboard. The barque tipped to a dangerous level and I began to scream.
Waking, I placed my hand over my heart, which was pounding fiercely. I was about to heave a sigh of relief when I heard the rumbling from my dream. I sat up, my chest constricting in fear once more. The noise sounded like it was coming from outside our hut.
The rumbling stopped.
I heard a strange voice shouting in a language I could not understand.
My father appeared beside me. In the dim light, I could see the outline of his bony profile as he knelt by my side.
"What's that noise, Papa?"
He put his arms around me and before he could answer, a chilling scream sliced through the air. Other screams followed. Soon, the air was filled with a frightening cacophony - screams, cries and more shouts in that strange language.
Papa's grip on me tightened. "Come, Kiya. We must hide you."
The door of our hut flew open.
Two enormous, fearsome-looking warriors towered like the tallest trees. Their faces were thickly painted in bright, garish colours. They wore loincloths made of animal skin and peculiar pointed headdresses that emphasised their unusual height. In their hands were spears that glinted threateningly.
One of the warriors shouted something, while waving toward us. Another dashed forward and snatched me out of Papa's protective hold.
The monster hauled me outside.
I kicked and flailed. "Papa!"
"Kiya!" Papa hurried after me.
Alas, though he was strong and agile, he was no match for these giants. They ran with such enormous strides that in no time he was out of sight.
"Papa?" I writhed about in the warrior's iron grip. "Papa!"
I felt a blow to the back of my head and the world turned black.
Cold water slapped my face. When I opened my eyes, I was staring into the massive painted face of my captor.
"Get up," he snarled. His breath was fouler than rotten fish.
I struggled to my feet. Though I was still in a daze, I dared not disobey.
The warrior grabbed my arm and led me through pitch-black darkness. I was certain he was going to kill me. My chest tightened with fear.
He led me out into a brightly lit clearing. It looked like we were in the midst of a dense jungle. A campfire crackled at the centre where the warrior's comrades sat feasting and talking.
Relief washed over me when I noticed my fellow villagers huddled together at the far end. Menah was with them.
I smiled. "Menah!"
The warrior slapped me hard across the face. "You are not to speak. If you do so again, we will kill you."
I shuddered, though I was less frightened than before now that I knew I was not alone.
The warrior dragged me over to the villagers and shoved me amongst them. "Stay with them. No talking and no trying to escape." He glared at us, then went to the fire to join the others.
Menah took my hand.
"Where are my parents?" I asked in a bare whisper.
He looked at me sadly and shook his head.
I knew what that meant. They were not there.
I suddenly threw up.
In a flash, the warrior was before us. "What's going on here?"
No one answered.
"She felt sick and vomited," our village mother Mekten said finally.
The warrior turned to his comrades and said something in their language. They laughed boisterously. He shook his head and returned to them.
Tears spilled from my eyes. Menah held me and rocked me, comforting me. I sobbed for a long time, eventually crying myself to sleep.
What followed was an arduous journey through the jungle. The scorching sun was merciless and mosquitoes bit my arms, legs and face. The entire time, our captors threatened to murder us and I might have actually died with despair had it not been for the familiar faces around me.
I do not know how far we travelled, but just as I thought we would perish, one of the warriors announced we had reached our destination.
It was early evening. We were led toward a tribal encampment illuminated by a towering bonfire. Drumbeats pounded in my ears as we drew nearer. When we entered the camp, I saw tents made of dyed animal hides, as well as poles topped with the decapitated heads of people and animals. I averted my eyes, trying to erase the horrific images from my head.
The drums were deafening as the tribespeople surrounded us. Like our captors, they were wrapped in animal skins. Their bodies were pierced in just about every part and painted in bright colours. I shuddered when a small child with painted teeth and a pierced nose came over and poked at my face.
My fellow villagers and I were lined up in front of the bonfire. I thought for sure they would murder us. I whimpered as one of the warriors strode up to us. I recognised him. He had entered my family's hut.
The warrior paced the length of our row. "Do you know why you are all here?"
No one answered.
He glared at us. "Many years ago, your Pharaoh murdered our chieftain. I am that chieftain's son and will now avenge my father's death. Until your king makes amends, we will continue to destroy your wretched country. If he does not, we will fight until Egypt is no more."
As he reached me, he stopped pacing and smiled, revealing crooked yellow teeth. "What is your name, little girl?" His voice was gentle.
"K-Kiya," I squeaked.
"What a beautiful girl you are. Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are?"
I did not answer.
"How old are you?"
"Ah. Perfect." His hideous grin widened. "You will be my slave, Kiya. And when your red moon comes, you will become my bride."
I stared at him, too horrified to speak.
He stepped forward. "That flower around your neck goes very well with your lovely face." He fingered the lotus pendant and I pulled back.
"Where are my parents?" I blurted.
"We left them behind, little one. We have no use for them." He laughed cruelly.
My fear was replaced by rage. "I want my parents. Bring me back to my parents."
One of the warriors rushed toward me, but the chieftain held up his hand. He stared into space for a moment. "Very well. If you work hard, I will send for your parents by the time you and I are ready to marry."
My anger began to abate. "You mean that?" I looked into his dark eyes, which were surrounded by a strange painted pattern of dots.
"Yes. So what do you say, little Kiya? Are you going to work hard?"
I hated that he called me "little Kiya." It sounded like he was trying to replace Papa. But I knew that if I wanted to see my parents again, I had to be obedient and silent.
"Good," he said, turning away.
"What is a red moon?" I asked.
Some of my fellow villagers stared at me, aghast, while the tribespeople roared with laughter.
The chieftain approached Mekten. "Be Kiya's advisor and explain to her what a red moon is. I am sure you know full well." He winked at her.
I felt sick at that gesture, even though I did not understand what it meant.
Mekten nodded in submission.
The chieftain waved his arm, inviting his people to pick slaves from among us.
A tall, thin woman with large bone earrings and a cold expression led Mekten and I to the chieftain's large tent. When we stepped inside, I nearly screamed. The place was festooned with more disembodied animal heads, as well as enormous wooden masks with frightening expressions. The dim light from torches cast shadows on the eerie things, making them look almost alive.
The tribeswoman pointed to a dirty mat at the far end of the tent. "You will sleep there. Go now." Mekten and I headed for the mat, but the tribeswoman grabbed Mekten's arm. "Not you. You will stay here."
I stared at them, confused, and the woman glared at me. "Go!"
I hurried over to the mat as the tribeswoman extinguished the torch, plunging the tent into complete darkness.
All was silent. Then the tent's flap rose, revealing the bulky profile of the chieftain. He shuffled inside and the flap swung closed.
Not long after, I heard Mekten crying out in fear and pain. Heavy breathing followed. The louder Mekten screamed, the heavier the breathing grew.
Though I had no idea what was happening, I knew I was hearing something bad. I covered my ears, but it was no use. Similar screams rose from the neighbouring tents. I slept amongst nightmares, waking at times to the sound of terrified cries and heartbreaking sobbing.
The following morning, Mekten acted scared of everything and everyone, which wasn't like her. I wanted to make her feel better, but I didn't know how. Even the most trivial things I did frightened her.
Throughout the day, I kept a distance from her. But at times, I tried to reach out to her. She was, after all, one of our dearest family friends.
"Mekten," I said in a timid voice. "What is a red moon?"
Mekten looked at me with sad eyes. Finally, she took a deep breath and explained everything in a shaky voice before breaking down.
I usually avoid reading novels about Biblical figures because they never seem to match my idea of what those figures are like, but there was something about "Asenath" that made me really want to read this one.
Told through the eyes of Asenath, one quickly develops a connection with her. She's strong, captivating, innocent and curious, and most of all, she has a beautiful heart. At a young age, she was captured and enslaved, then was adopted by an Egyptian priest and priestess. Her life runs parallel to Joseph's and it only seems natural that she would befriend him. This creates a captivating and quite well written love story that brings to life Egypt during the time of Joseph and makes the reader feel like they are there and involved instead of "watching" from the sidelines.
There were a few times this novel didn't ring authentic for me. I couldn't help but wonder if women really were allowed to travel alone or with only one male? I got the sense that it was "normal" then, but it didn't feel "right" to me. I kept wondering why women weren't required to protect their virtue like they did later on in history. I also had trouble getting used to modern language being used in a story of a different time period. One example that sticks out in my mind was when Asenath was "hanging out" with her animals. I would find that after allowing myself to be "transported" back to that time, sometimes the 21st century phrases would break the "mood" for me and I'd remember I was reading a book.
These details shouldn't dissuade one from reading "Asenath", but it did keep me from rating this as a 5 star book. The story itself was very captivating and most definitely worth reading! Anna Patricia did a wonderful job capturing the essence of what I would imagine Joseph and Asenath to be like.