Polyphony in Mahfouz’s Akhenaten

As of last month, I joined the 8.05% percent of people in the US who have graduate degrees. I graduated Summa Cum Laude. What does that mean? It means I AM NOW FREE TO READ WHATEVER I WANT.

homer_muumuuAnd, boy, have I been reading the books. During my last few months of grad school, when I was manic with thesis preparations and comp exams and I was pretty much only reading theory books or my own stories (over and over and over again), during that time, books started piling up in my office. They were books that I wanted to read — books that wanted me to read them — but that I lacked the time to sit down with. By graduation, the pile was, like, waist-high (I have an Amazon addiction).

And now? I have become a glutton. If books had calories, I would seriously need to go buy a couple of muumuus. This morning, I spent several hours devouring Dumas’ Fernande. And yesterday, I finished a wonderful book by Naguib Mahfouz called Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth.

I’ve been a big fan of Mahfouz for many years, but this one is by far my favorite of his works. What makes it so wonderful — aside from Mahfouz’s glorious prose, which somehow manages to be both rich and spare — is the novel’s polyphonic structure. In life, there are always multiple sides to every story, and I really love it when literature reflects and incorporates this principle. Akhenaten includes the fictional perspectives of not two or three, but sixteen(!) different characters involved in the pharaoh’s tumultuous reign. Each chapter is one person’s account of the events of Akhenaten’s rule. The way each version contradicts or supports the others is sheer music. I suppose that’s why it has inspired a cello concerto by American composer Mohammed Fairouz. To my regret, I cannot find a link to it (anyone got one?) This, however, is by the same composer, and quite lovely.

My friend Joe wrote a great essay on polyphony for Glimmer Train.


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