When We Were Gods

For the past three days, Colin Falconer’s epic narration of Cleopatra’s life has engrossed and enchanted me. It is an oft-speculated and oft-recounted tale, but Falconer weaves history with very real character portraits which give drama and tension to the story.

The book takes one back to the days of the Roman Empire at the height of its power and imperial conquests, when none dared to stand against the vast legions of Rome. Yet this was the time when Egypt was reborn with the ascension of Cleopatra VII with the death of her father Ptolemy IV, the Piper, the Bastard. These different worlds are destined to clash in a climactic struggle.

The image that everyone has of her as a harlot and a rebel is unjust when compared to the rich tapestry that Falconer weaves of this woman with great intellect, cunning, and loyalty. The young queen with an ugly family history, she lives in a snake pit surrounded by enemies ready to strike at any time. Whether it is her sister or her brothers, Cleopatra must compete not only for the throne, but also for survival.

Amid the intrigues of the court, the reader watches her grow into her famous role. Alone in a world of deception, she proves to be made of steel. She assumes the throne immediately after her father’s death, defying the tradition of women consorts and male rulers. She further defies tradition by becoming the Queen of Egypt instead of the king’s consort.

She learns to manipulate the masses of Lower Egypt by “becoming” the goddess Isis. Her transformations, although artificial, sweep the reader away with a colorful visions of divinity reincarnated.

Her political policies also begin to fully develop when, with the help of a Sicilian merchant, she smuggles herself into Roman-occupied Egypt. Her goal is to seduce Caesar into reinstating her birthright. She gets more then what she bargains for when she finds herself falling in love with this much older man. When she gives birth to the son and heir for Caesar, she dreams not only of the preservation of Egypt, but the beginning of a dynasty that will be the ruler of both Egypt and Rome.

With Caesar’s assasination, her future is once again in turmoil, and she casts her lot with Marc Antony, the dissolute general of Caesar’s legions, and lives out history to its inevitable tragic end.

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9 Responses to “When We Were Gods”

  1. ooooh.. esp love reading about women like this.
    and you are so good at this.. my already long list keeps increasing! 🙂

  2. I’d recommend the HBO series “Rome” if you’re into historical dramas. I warn you, Cleopatra’s portrayal falls into the cliched “harlot” terriotory.

  3. Niranjan Says:

    Wonderful review as always. I wonder, is the book fiction within the skeleton of real characters and events?

  4. @Mystic Rose: this one is worth it – find a pot of tea on a rainy day.

  5. I got it!

    and the other two as well.. Bengal Nights and and It does not die.

  6. @AsifY: hiya, neighbor. i haven’t caught Rome, but the trailers sure reminded me of 300.

  7. @ Alok Niranjan! *chuckle* well, Rushdie said that all stories are haunted by the ghosts of stories that might have been, and i’ve always considered it one of his most memorable lines [considering as it’s the only one that stuck to my memory, heheh.]
    about the book, let’s just say that it’s a very plausible version of reality, but in the end, who knows?

  8. @Mystic Rose: that was fast work! enjoy, love.

  9. Niranjan Says:

    True, I guess the farther one goes with time, the tougher it is to separate fact from fiction. Interesting and apt quote by Rushdie, that. Will be relevant here to mention this movie called ‘Big Fish’, which reminded my of Haroun and the sea of stories, in the way it blurs the lines between reality and fantasy.

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