Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cleopatra Confesses

Cleopatra Confesses tells the story of Cleopatra VII, daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes, in diary format with the Queen reminiscing as Octavian prepares to enter Alexandria - the seat of Egypt's Pharaohs.

Cleopatra's father was a descendant of Philip of Macedonia, Philip's son, Alexander the Great, liberated Egypt from Persian occupation. Alexander's half brother, Ptolemy became the first of a new line of pharaohs ruling Egypt. Cleopatra was the third eldest child of Ptolemy.

Cleopatra's story begins when she is 10 years old. Her father is returning to Egypt after a voyage to Rome in an attempt to stave off Rome from annexing Egypt as a province. He temporarily accomplishes this by paying an exorbitant bribe to Rome in exchange for Julius Caesar living Egypt alone. It is this action that leaves Egypt with a crushing debt and Pharaoh Ptolemy no choice but to raise taxes. Soon civil unrest follows and Ptolemy XII is forced into exile in Rome. Although Cleopatra's sisters Tryphaena and Berenike are only a few years older, they have always assumed that they will one day rule Egypt. Unknown to her older sisters though, is that their father, Ptolemy, tells Cleopatra that it is she who will rule with him some day.

Once Ptolemy is in exile however, the vain and power-hungry Tryphaena and Berenike install themselves as Queen of Egypt. From this point on, murder, intrigue, and war plague the Egyptian court with disastrous results. We follow Cleopatra through many events which eventually result in her meeting Julius Caesar and becoming the last Pharaoh of Egypt.

Carolyn Meyer has done a wonderful job presenting Cleopatra to young readers. In fact, she succeeds to the point that I felt I wanted to learn even more about her. Meyer presents Cleopatra in a realistic manner that makes her accessible and believable to the reader. This is accomplished through the use of first person narrative where the reader learns not only about historical events but also about how Cleopatra may have felt. Cleopatra is portrayed as intelligent and kind. She loves to learn from her tutor Demetrius and is adept at languages, speaking both Greek and Egyptian as well as knowing a little Latin. Cleopatra has a great love of her father and appears to be his favourite. She also is portrayed as having a great love of her country and her people and is eager to be the Queen of Egypt some day so that she can rule justly and restore Egypt's prosperity.

As might be expected, the author's focus in Cleopatra Confesses is on Cleopatra's childhood and teen years. It's quite apparent, Meyer has done considerable research. There is an extensive note on Cleopatra at the end of the book since Cleopatra Confesses only deals with Cleopatra's life up until she meets Julius Caesar and is installed as Pharaoh in her 22nd year.

I highly recommend this novel to teens who enjoy historical fiction. Cleopatra is a historical figure of great interest to everyone as she's been portrayed numerous times in films, most notably by Elizabeth Taylor. Meyer's book cover definitely capitalizes on the mystique surrounding Cleopatra.

Book Details:
Cleopatra Confesses by Caroline Meyer
New York: Simon & Schuster: A Paula Wiseman Book 2011
278 pp.

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