Saturday 12 November 2011

Review: Asenath - Anna Patricio

Genre: Historical fiction, YA
Pages: 224
Published: Sep 2011
Review by Anachronist

The novel is a creative version of the life of Asenath, the Egyptian wife of Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachel from the Bible. You might remember him – he had a coat of many colours and was rather disliked by his half-brothers – and you most likely won’t remember her, as she is mentioned once, as his wife and the mother of his two sons. We are given just a name and still the author managed to fill all the gaps with her vivid imagination.

Asenath, according to Ms. Patricio, is an adopted daughter of a Heliopolis priest; before that she was a low-born peasant called Kiya; after an attack of foreign invaders and the death of her parents her life altered beyond recognition. Still her sad experience stayed with her, making her life as an aristocratic lady rather difficult. However, the same experience helped her find the love of her life – seeing a slave lying on the ground in scorching sun she didn’t hesitate and let him drink some water. The same slave later would become the Vizier of Egypt and her husband.

What I liked:
 It was a nice story and a book rather pleasant and easy to read. Written in the first person narrative it is a compelling tale of a stunning success of a simple peasant girl and a simple Hebrew slave – from rags to riches, nothing less. The book is geared definitely toward the Young Adult market and I suppose these readers will appreciate it the most, especially if they have read some Bible stories as well and are acquainted with Joseph.

What I didn’t like:
 As I said, the fact that it is clearly an YA position influenced the way it was told. In my humble opinion it was too sanitized. Asenath/Kiya’s slavery time is glossed over; the authoress also kind of forgot that the initial intention of Joseph’s brothers was to kill him; only after the intervention of the eldest one, Rueben, who seemed to be the most level-headed and responsible at that time, they agreed to spare him and sell into slavery (the Elohist version) . The rest of them were mad of jealousy and hated Joseph’s guts just because he dared to be the favourite of his dad.

I would also like to see more Egyptian court life and less teenage angst. I know the book was written from Asenath’s point of view but it would be more complex if another narrative voice was added and a new perspective with it.

Finally let me say that many details of everyday Egyptian life seemed surprisingly modern. Asenath’s childhood friend proposes during an official function, kneeling before her…I am not sure it was done that way in ancient times. Asenath gets married dressed in white with a veil…not sure about that either. The pharaoh appologizing to his subject - well, very unlikely, he was the living god. In other words – if you want to find out more about the culture of ancient Egypt, it is not the right book.

Let me also add that the story of Joseph's near seduction by his master's wife bears a marked similarity to the Egyptian story of the Tale of Two Brothers, which was popular at the time of Pharaoh Seti II (roughly 1200-1194 BCE).  It has also been suggested that there are similarities between the rise to power of Joseph, and Manethos' tale of Osarseph, who was Syrian born, and rose to be Vizier of Egypt, beginning his career under Pharaoh Merenptah and his son Seti II. Indeed the name Potiphar (Joseph’s master) may even be a version of Merenptah's name (Poti = Ptah, Phar = Pharaoh). The "seven lean years" has been taken to refer to a Middle Eastern famine documented at that time.

Final verdict:
I liked the novel but only for its entertainment factor. The historical background was like that of any Disney movie (The Prince of Egypt anyone?) so not impressing at all. Still kudos for finding an interesting topic and an original heroine.


  1. Great review. I love everything that has to do with History. But it has to be correct, I'm a History student and reading things like pharaoh appologizing to his subject is just not right! So not the right book for me! :0

  2. Great, honest review Blod, Asenath does sound like an entertaining read. You did well here pointing out what you enjoyed as opposed to what you didn't.

  3. Originality is sorely lacking these days...I'm glad that it at least hit that target!

  4. Huh, sounds interesting. But I think I'll past. I'm not big on YA being mixed with books like these. I rather have even the bad parts involved. Like the slavery part. It sounds morbid, but I feel like its an important part of the book. Oh well. Great review!

  5. Sometimes the modern aspects in a historical novel can throw you out of the story - however I like the idea of a story focusing on the little known wife of Joseph - I never even knew he was married! :)

  6. Thanks for the honest review, Blodeuedd! At least it served well in the entertainment category. I will keep this in mind for a light read in-between some heavy historical fiction.

  7. I think that being in the YA genre shouldn't excuse books from being more or less historically accurate. It does seem from your examples that there were some jarring missteps.

  8. Thanks everyone for comments and thank you my lady Blodeuedd for posting my review!

    @Nina - I do understand. I love history as well and if a hisfic book goes wrong well, it is an issue.

    @naida - thanks for your kind words!
    @Staci - yes indeed, originality was a huge asset!

    @Carole Rae - thanks, I also perfer books with more reality!

    @Mel -yes, Joseph was married, I know, quite a surprise!

    @Svea - thanks a lot!

    @ StephanieD - there were missteps indeed but it is a debut novel so let's hope the author can improve...

  9. Sounds good to me, even from the sanitized, YA standpoint,
    However, really not into the distorting history part. One of my favorite things about historical fiction is learning new, interesting things, so, not into that.

  10. @brizmus - I couldn't agree more!

  11. Thank you Ana :)
    Awesome review as always and yes, kneeling, white and veil, think not

  12. Thanks for sharing your opinion! I don't think I would be picking up this book just yet...

  13. This does look super original, it's always so disappointing when the historical parts of a historical novel don't pan out.

  14. I liked the cover the moment I saw it, but I am not fond of reading bible tales. And when you say, this is totally YA / Disney, this book will not be read by me.

  15. Nina,
    So very very wrong, I fear your history student heart could not take it

    Ana's review ;)

    Aye, at least that was good

    Nope, it does not sound morbid, just real. There is bad things happening everywhere still today, and many YA books do not shy away from it so why should this book

    I get really annoyed when they use modern swear words ;)

    Anas's review

    And I am not really sure who it is aimed at, but yes whoever it is it should show the real fatcs

    That is what I love about history too

    I do get why

    Yes, I do not really know how to deal with that

    I really like that cover too, very cool

  16. Thanks Blodeuedd for covering the rest of comments - I have nothing to say, my pleasure for being a guest at Mur-y-Castell!

  17. Hm... I think I would have liked it if it wasn't so sanitized. Even if it is YA, I think they can handle at least some of the darkness. Plus, I'm with Nina about the pharaoh... that wouldn't happen, not even in a subject dreams!

  18. My thoughts exactly Melissa - nowadays teens can handle a lot of hardship and drama, no need to sanitize anything too much; a pharaoh's subject would never dream of such a thing for sure!

  19. Great review! It really made me think. I'm not sure whether I would like it or not but I know I've never read anything like this (from the way it sounds).



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