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