Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Well Thumbed Book: Cleopatra's Heir

by Karen Adler

Cleopatra: Queen of Egypt, sex goddess, lover of Mark Antony, iconic martyr. Not many think of her as a mother of four. After she was overthrown, her son and heir, Caesarion, was supposedly killed, and her two younger children were spared, and fostered by the wife of Mark Antony.  But what if Caesarion escaped the attempt on his life? Gillian Bradshaw’s creative novel, Cleopatra’s Heir, starts with this little-known nugget and takes off running. 

Bradshaw has done her research:  Julius Caesar, Caesarion’s father, was thought to have had epilepsy, so she simply gives his son the same disability.  When Roman troops massacre Caesarion’s small party in the desert, Caesarion has an epileptic seizure, and the troops leave him for dead. Caesarion, not quite eighteen, wounded and on his own, comes upon an Egyptian named Ani, and his caravan. Caesarion has enough wits about him to not betray his identity, and Ani, in need of a secretary who can read Greek, offers him a job. Caesarion is not in a position to refuse, so he reluctantly accepts—even though he is disgusted with himself to be associating with such low tradesmen. In his mind, it’s the only way for him to return to Alexandria and rescue his siblings.

In Bradshaw’s capable hands, Caesarion emerges as a believable scion of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. Like Cleopatra, he was considered to be a living god—an idea he questions as he becomes closer and closer to Ani and his family, which includes Ani’s beautiful daughter, Melanthe. As the caravan draws closer and closer to Alexandria, Casearion's past catches up to him in ways he could not anticipate. 

Bradshaw seamlessly blends fact and fiction into one luminous narrative. Her historical accuracy is top-notch, and her characters seem as real to me as anybody I’d meet today, despite the two thousand year difference.  If you want to be swept away to another time and way of life and enjoy a great adventure story in the process, you couldn't do better than Cleopatra’s Heir.


Karen Adler is a student at Tufts University, where she is also a writing tutor and Content Editor of the Tufts Roundtable magazine, a journal of political debate and ideas. She grew up in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, DC, and was a frequent visitor to Politics & Prose in North Cleveland Park, Borders in Friendship Heights, and Barnes & Noble in Georgetown. She is always reading at least one book, if not two or three at once, and loves to recommend books to anyone and everyone.

The Well-Thumbed Book each week presents a recommendation for a book that may or may not have been a bestseller when it first came out, but which (in this reviewer's opinion) deserves to find a wide, ongoing, and appreciative readership.

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