Geography, History and Themes {Book Club}

Since I’m a nerd and the book we’re reading, Jewel of the Nile by Tessa Afshar, is historical fiction, let’s start this week with a little geography and history lesson.

First, I found this map on deviantart.com, which shows the Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Kush (also spelled Cush), and other kingdoms and peoples as they were in AD 117, just a few decades after this week’s chapters.

I am not sure that I knew anything at all about the Kingdom of Kush before I started reading African history books. I’m still a student in this subject, but I can offer the small bit of info that I’ve learned.

Kush was a Nubian kingdom in present-day Sudan. They traded with Egypt and are included in paintings in Egypt. From 747-656 BC, Kushites ruled ancient Egypt during what is called the 25th Dynasty of Egypt, the Nubian Dynasty, the Kushite Empire, or the Black Pharaohs (so many names for the same thing). They Came Before Columbus by Ivan van Sertima presents evidence that during the 25th Dynasty, Egyptians (Nubians) could have sailed across the Atlantic, and they were more mobile on the ocean than ancient Europeans were because their ships were powered by both sails and oars, so they could sail when the wind was good and row when it was not. I was delighted to notice some of these details in the chapters from this week!

Jewel of the Nile takes place in the first century AD, long after the 25th Dynasty of Egypt was over. This week’s chapters are set in Kush, and the Kandake is a key figure. From what I understand about matrilineal succession of kings, the Kandake’s son would be the king, and her daughter would be the next Kandake and mother of the next king. One of the most famous Kandakes was Amanirenas, who fought off the Roman Empire sometime between 40 and 10 BC. When I searched for a picture of her, I found this painting from the National Geographic book Splendors of the Past. It is Amanirenas and her son Akinidad, watching a Roman fort burn. Perhaps she was the grandmother of the Kandake in our book.

The Kandake’s chief treasurer, a eunuch, is one of the main characters of Jewel of the Nile, and he was discipled by Philip – that Philip from the book of Acts. Thus I thought that Natemahar must be that eunuch from Acts 8. Afshar explains in the author’s note at the end of the book (if you are someone who avoids spoilers, I don’t recommend flipping ahead and reading it like I did) why he is from Kush, not Ethiopia, but we can see from the map of AD 117, there was no Ethiopia. Instead, on that part of the continent there was a kingdom called Aksum. When a Greek person in those days said “Ethiopia,” they were talking about Kush.

The central conflict in Jewel of the Nile is a woman trying to find out who her father is. But already, I see much deeper themes.

  • Struggling to find belonging (as a bicultural/biracial woman, always culturally “other”). “For a few days, she had grasped onto hope. Hope that by finding her father, she would finally belong somewhere.”
  • A young woman in her mid-twenties with no marriage prospects and little of hope of marriage arrangements developing. “Quintus Blandinus was not the man to choose a husband for Chariline. Just as well he seemed entirely disinterested in such an enterprise…no respectable Roman would want her.”
  • Refusing to conform to social expectations and gender roles. “Most believed a woman had no business wanting to be an architect. Wanting to learn engineering and construction.”
  • Putting faith in God even when he feels far away. “But her prayer rose up like a wisp of smoke with hardly any substance.”
  • Recklessly chasing one’s own plans before stopping to talk with God about his. “She had simply barreled through, leaping from one idea to the next, allowing her emotions to lead her decisions. Her mind had been tangled in its own storm of plans. Plans that had crashed around her, gaining her nothing.”

Where do you relate to Chariline? What themes do you see emerging? Do you have any additional geographical or historical insights to delight my nerdy brain? Please share!

Here is the schedule for the rest of the book:

Oct 12 Ch 9 – Ch 17

Oct 19 Ch 18 – Ch 26

Oct 26 Ch 27 – Epilogue

Photo by Marylou Fortier on Unsplash

10 Comments

  1. Michelle October 5, 2021

    Rachel I LOVE The map and the historical insights. Thank you so much for doing the research for us. I’m always curious to read about the bicultural/biracial experience as I raise my very African-American son. Since I’ve not read ahead yet, I’m gonna throw my guess out there. I am wondering if there is any chance that Natemahar could be Chariline’s father. And that his punishment had been to be made a eunuch. I wonder if Chariline would be happier embracing her Cush side as it seems that maybe there is more opportunity for female empowerment in the Cush culture with strong female leadership. Looking forward to seeing what comes next.

    1. Bayta Schwarz October 5, 2021

      Now there’s a thought…

    2. Rachel Kahindi October 6, 2021

      I had the same thoughts about Natemahar!

  2. Bayta Schwarz October 5, 2021

    I loved all the background info – thank you! I am rather enjoying having those biblical characters woven into the story. It’s so fun having glimpses of what their lives might have been like beyond what we learn in the Bible.
    Also such a good reminder that while a lot of the language around TCKs etc is fairly recent, there have always been people living that reality!

    1. Rachel Kahindi October 6, 2021

      It is so cool to read a mention of someone who is in the Bible and think, “Oh! I know them!” Maybe silly, but I feel almost as if my own personal friends are part of the story.

  3. Grace L October 5, 2021

    I am so glad that we are reading one of Tessa Afshar’s books. She has been my favorite author for historical Christian fiction for a couple of years now and I have read almost all of her books. They all feature a woman who has been through some difficult struggles and it usually involves her eventually marrying a Godly man and their journey of faith in trust in God. In particular, in Afshar’s books, I really enjoy the personal journey the main characters go through in relating to God, and this is true for the ones that take place in Old Testament times as well as New Testament times. I often find myself growing in my own relationship with the Lord as I join them on their journey.

    When I ordered this book on Amazon, I was reading one person’s review. In it she mentioned that she was glad to see Theo in this book again because she had gotten to know this character in some of the previous books. I remembered him from her book, “Thief of Corinth”, that I read 2 years ago. So when I saw that Theo and some other characters from that book were in the book that precedes “Jewel of the Nile”, I ordered Afshar’s book, “Daughter of Rome”, and rushed to get that read before starting on “Jewel of the Nile”, which I am already enjoying.

    In contrast to the previous two books that take place in Corinth and Rome, the main character in this book, Chariline, is already a believer and has been taught by Philip and his daughters in Caesarea. I am looking forward to moving into the next section which will take place in Caesarea and the church there. And of course, also the boat ride in which she will meet Theo. A note from the previous book in which Theo made a brief appearance. It describes Theo as having had his heart broken as well as having gone through some traumatic personal issues that are continuing to impact him. We may read more about that in the coming chapters. There is a lot more about Theo in “Thief of Corinth”.

    I am looking forward to seeing how both Chariline and Theo work out their problems and grow and mature in their faith in the Lord.

    1. Rachel Kahindi October 6, 2021

      Ooh how interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Sarah Hilkemann October 6, 2021

    I love all this background info, Rachel! Thank you. 🙂 I love fiction but don’t read it enough so this has been a treat for me.
    I also love the themes you pulled out. Although in a lot of ways Chariline feels at peace to me as she deals with her interesting family dynamics with her aunt and grandparents, I also see her search to belong. That resonates deeply with my global worker heart! We were just talking in my Connection Group this week about how challenging it can be to have deep and meaningful friendships. No matter how introverted or extroverted we are, we long to be known and to belong. To linger over conversations and feel understood. Sometimes that can be challenging across cultures or with our passport culture relationships when we come back home.
    I have lots of guesses about Natemahar, Chariline and Theo. 🙂 We’ll see what happens!

  5. Amanda Hutton October 7, 2021

    Rachel, this post really brought the first chapters to life for me! Thank you for doing the research.

    I decided to try this title out as an audiobook, so it is hard to reference chapters, but I could so relate to Chariline’s desperation to know more about her parents. My heart broke for her character because all she wanted was, as Sarah put it perfectly, “to be known and to belong.” She was never celebrated for having her mother’s gift as an architect. Her grandfather didn’t bother trying to find her a husband or look out for her future.

    The LORD talks so much about the importance of loving orphans and the widowed. One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Most of my life I did not have a father present, and for much of my life my mother was not present, either physically or mentally. The pain that goes with that sort of grief can only be healed by El Roi, the God who sees, and there have been some powerful times that the Lord has used people to show me His Fatherly love. This book has been a reminder to reach out to those who are seeking for love and identity and offer them a cool, refreshing cup of Jesus.

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