Excerpt from The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Egyptologist

A Novel

by Arthur Phillips

The Egyptologist
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2004, 400 pages
    Jun 2005, 400 pages

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Print Excerpt

31 Dec. Sunset. Outside the tomb of Atum-hadu. On the Victrola 50:
"I'm Sitting on the Back Porch Swing (Won't You Come Sit by Me, Dear?)."

My darling Margaret, my eternal Queen whose beauty astonishes the sun,

Your father and I are heading home tomorrow, back to you—the luxurious riverboat north to Cairo, a night at that city's Hotel of the Sphinx, then by rail to Alexandria, and from there we have booked victorious passage on the Italian steamer Cristoforo Colombo, ports of call Malta, London, New York, from where we shall catch the very first train to you in Boston. You shall embrace your fiancé and your father by 20 January.

Upon my return, our wedding will, of course, be our most pressing business. Then, after refreshed preparations, I shall lead a second expedition back here to Deir el Bahari to conduct a photographic survey of the wall paintings and clear the artefacts and treasures from the tomb. All that remains this evening is to seal up the tomb's front, leaving my find exactly as I discovered it. And then posting you this package. My messenger is due here presently.

Nothing stands in our way now, my darling. My success here, your father's reinstated blessing—all is precisely as I promised. You will be relieved to know that your father and I are again fast friends. (Thank you for your "warning" cable, but your father's misplaced anger back in Boston could never have survived his time here in my company!) No, he congratulates me on my find ("our find, Trilipush!" he corrects me), sleepily sends you his love, and sheepishly begs you to disregard those foolish things he told you of me. He was under terrible strain, surrounded by jealousy and intriguers, and now he is simply delighted that I have forgiven him for succumbing, even for an instant, to such corrosive lies. And now we are returning to you, just as you will return to me.

Of course, if you are reading this letter, then I have not, for reasons I can only speculate, made it safely back to Boston and your embrace. I did not arrive trailing clouds of immortal glory, did not drape around your white throat this strand of whitest gold I am bringing you from Atum-hadu's tomb. And I did not, taking you gently aside, under the double-height arched windows of your father's parlour, brush away your tears of joy at my safe return, and quietly ask you to give me as soon as it arrives a package (this package), that you would be receiving from me shortly, stamped with the alluring postage of far-off Egypt, addressed to me in your care, to be opened by you only in case of my extended and inexplicable absence.

No, events will proceed just as I have foretold, and you will not read this letter. I shall arrive before it, shall gently take it from you before you open it, and all of this will be unread, unnecessary, a precaution known to no one but me.

But. But, Margaret. But. You have seen as clearly as anyone the malevolence of those who would have us fail, and one never knows when fatal accidents or worse might befall one. And so I am taking the liberty of sending to you the enclosed journals. Dear God, may it all arrive safely.

Margaret, you are now holding, if the besuckered tentacles of my enemies have not yet slithered into the Egyptian postal system, three packets, arranged chronologically in order of composition. They open 10 October, with my arrival in Cairo at the Hotel of the Sphinx, thoughts of you and our engagement party still effervescent in my head. Journal entries never meant for publication are intermingled with those that were, and with elements of the finished work. Much of the journal is a letter to you, the letter I never found the right moment to send until now. I intend to untangle all that back in Boston. The second packet begins when I exhausted my supply of the hotel's stationery and in its place relied on the generosity of colleagues at the Egyptian Government's Antiquities Service; several score pages are on the letterhead of the Service's Director-General. Finally, I have nearly filled one very handsome Lett's #46 Indian and Colonial Rough Diary, the preferred journals of British explorers whilst working in faraway heat and sand, advancing knowledge at the risk of their very hides. Do not worry: the pages torn from its back are none other than the pages of this letter. Together the three documents compose the rough draft of my indisputable masterwork, Ralph M. Trilipush and the Discovery of the Tomb of Atum-hadu.

Excerpted from The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips Copyright© 2004 by Arthur Phillips. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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