Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Review: Like Mayflies in a Stream


Shamhat is one the strongest female protagonists you will find in a book of fiction, but she isn’t a child of the sixties or a modern feminist. She is a priestess and servant of the goddess Inanna, tending to her temple duties in Mesopotamia in 2800 BCE. In Shauna Roberts’ Like Mayflies in a Stream, Shamhat struggles to preserve faithfulness to her goddess, a task that conflicts with the personality of King Gilgamesh, who focuses on lust and feats of strength rather than the good of his people.

Shamhat’s conflict results from two dreams, one received by Inanna’s chief priest, Nanna-Ur-Sag, and another, one received by Gilgamesh himself. From his dream, Nanna-Ur-Sag believes that a powerful man from the desert is destined to restore order, balance, and justice to Uruk. Gilgamesh, on the other hand, believes that a powerful man from the desert is destined to be the one companion strong enough to complete his restless and reckless personality.

A wild man, Enkidu, indeed lives in the desert, but to lure him into the city—Shamhat’s mission as dictated by Gilgamesh—the priestess must lose the trappings of her holy office and use her highly advanced sexual artifice, usually used only on a sacredd feast day of Inanna, to humanize Enkidu and convince him to journey from the desert to the city. If she is successful, however, will Enkidu fulfill the vision of Gilgamesh’s dream, or that of Nanna-Ur Sag’s?

A lesser writer might well have lost the narrative structure of such a novel in trying to execute a plot faithful to ancient Sumerian customs and terminology. Roberts, a PhD in anthropology with a longstanding interest in the history of the Near East, smoothly incorporates her knowledge of ancient culture into the epic struggle of a swaggering king and a priestess attempting to keep her dignity and oaths while mediating a battle between the earth and the heavens.

The novel will appeal to those who love both adventure and historical fiction. At a deeper level, the book is a fascinating and detailed character study of Shamhat as she uses humility and resolve, not combat, to retain her inner strength and core values while trying to save an entire city. Like Mayflies in a Stream (Hadley Rille Books, 2009) is an archaeologically-accurate novel that frames contemporary questions and struggles within ancient Mesopotamia. Roberts’ choice of time and place proves that the tension between integrity and power is a universal and ongoing conflict that lies at the heart of all human struggle, and, more importantly, human growth.

16 comments:

Shauna Roberts said...

Thank you for your thoughtful review of Like Mayflies in a Stream.

Miladysa said...

A very interesting review - if my memory serves me correctly (it's prone to disobedience these days lol) I've heard about this book somewhere else too!

It is definitely my kind of thing and I am sure I will get around to reading it :)

Miladysa said...

A very interesting review - if my memory serves me correctly (it's prone to disobedience these days lol) I've heard about this book somewhere else too!

It is definitely my kind of thing and I am sure I will get around to reading it :)

Billy said...

Shauna, you're most welcome! I loved such a timely story that was nevertheless set in such a remote time and place. As I say in the review, the characters are as vivid and three-dimensional as any from a novel set in the present day.

Miladysia, it is really a great read. The prose flows effortlessly, and the story is very fast-paced and and drew me in immediately.

Diane Vogel Ferri said...

Hmmm - sounds interesting. Thanks for adding your "I don't like" list to mine. I would agree with all of yours - except sometimes I like parties.

Marja said...

Thanks for this interesting review. Most look out for it

Maxine said...

This sounds fascinating and I'm off to search for the book. A hurrah for strong female protagonists!!

Billy said...

Maxine, thanks for stopping by. You'll love the book!

Shauna Roberts said...

Maxine, thanks! I hope you really enjoy Like Mayflies in a Stream.

Lane said...

Great review. It sounds very interesting and not at all 'remote' as some historical fiction can be.

Hope all's well with you.

Bernita said...

Very good review for a very good book.
Congratulations to you both.

Miladysa said...

Happy New Year x

wsxwhx720 said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................

Raven said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I think I'll add it to my list.

Geraldine said...

I was just re-reading a comment you left over at my blog Billy, one that made me smile. Hope you are well. Are you posting elsewhere? I come and go in the blogging world, can't seem to really give it up!

Have a wonderful summer, G

www.mypoeticpath.wordpress.com

Geraldine said...

Hi again Billy, Just re-reading a post that you commented on, over at MPP. I hope all is well with you. WOuld be great to read a new post here, or perhaps you've moved? Stop by if/when you can and let me know. I also just started a new review blog at:

www.myreallifereviews.com

Hugs and Happy Weekend, G