Map of the locations in the book The Visitors

The Visitors – Egypt, Valley of the Kings – Sally Beauman

visitors

Why a booktrail?

If you’ve ever wanted to feel as you’re standing beside an iconic figure in history as he makes that history, then how about meeting Harold Carter and being one of the first into the tomb of  Tutankhamun ?

Story in a nutshell

Lucy is only eleven when she is sent abroad to recover from the typhoid which has killed her mother. She travels to Egypt. It is 1922 and a certain young man  – Howard Carter  -is also in Egypt. He is an archaeologist on an obsessive hunt for the one tomb that has not yet been discovered – Tutankhamun.

There she meets a young girl whose father is an archaeologist and their lives are transformed as they become not only close friends but ultimately fascinated with what is going on around them. The Valley of the Kings is their playground in more ways than one.

As the search for Tutankhamun continues apace, it is not just what is buried within the tomb that looks set to spill out and cause unforeseen consequences….

Place and setting

Cairo Egypt - Cairo - The Shepherd hotel Billed as the hotel that has seen it all, this was where many of the people in the novel both fictitious or not, stayed here and spent time in the ornate surroundings. A symbol of colonial Britain.  The Egyptian Museum The Egyptian museum- http://www.sca-egypt.org/eng/MUS_Egyptian_Museum.htm  owns over 3500 artefacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun, ranging from the gold face mask to walking sticks and much more. Luxor The Winter palace hotel Now a five star Sofitel, this 19th-century palace was once a winter retreat for the Egyptian royal family and for men such as Howard Carter. Very close by the Valley of the Kings The Valley of the Kings Valley of the Kings - Tutankhamun tomb/Castle Carter (Howard Carter’s home near the Valley) “Egyptian kings could be capricious when deciding their final resting place.” “..a magnificent site to wait out eternity.” Highclere Castle of Downton Abbey fame is also a setting but we've focused on Egypt here.
Cairo
 The Shepherd hotel
Billed as the hotel that has seen it all, this was where many of the people in the novel both fictitious or not, stayed here and spent time in the ornate surroundings. A symbol of colonial Britain.
The Egyptian Museum
The Egyptian museum- http://www.sca-egypt.org/eng/MUS_Egyptian_Museum.htm owns over 3500 artefacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun, ranging from the gold face mask to walking sticks and much more.
Luxor
The Winter Palace hotel
Now a five star Sofitel, this 19th-century palace was once a winter retreat for the Egyptian royal family and for men such as Howard Carter. Very close by the Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings
Valley of the Kings – Tutankhamun tomb/Castle Carter (Howard Carter’s home near the Valley)
“Egyptian kings could be capricious when deciding their final resting place.”
“..a magnificent site to wait out eternity.”
——-Highclere Castle of Downton Abbey fame is also a setting but we’ve focused on Egypt here—–

“We had now crossed the Nile; the towers and minarets, the jasmine and sewage scents of the city were behind us. Far in the distance I heard the rumble of a tram, the cough of a car engine. The dark of the desert enveloped us: I breathed in its antiseptic air.”

If it’s evocative writing you’re after and a chance to walk into the humidity and dryness of the Valley of the Kings at perhaps one of the most historic moments in Egyptian archaeology, then Sally Beauman gives you that chance.

She not only takes you there but plunges you straight into the hustle and bustle and excitement of the times.  From the viewpoint of a young girl in a strange and forbidden land comes the adventure of a lifetime but this is a young girl who goes to Egypt, returns to her home Cambridge and a holiday in  Hampshire before returning to the Valley of the Kings when the great discovery comes to a head.

The awe and amazement from an 11 year old girl is a good way of seeing how her life becomes intertwined with the fortunes of Egypt. When we meet 90 year old Lucy looking back on what it all meant, we see how power, greed and manipulation showed up the social and political mores of the time in Colonial Britain.

“Memories don’t survive unless they’re recorded.” And besides who’s to say what’s memory and what’s myth?”

Historical fact is interwoven seamlessly with historical fiction. Lord Carnarvon for example who lives in HighClere Castle in Hampshire (Downton Abbey fame) was the man who financed and supported much of what Howard Carter was able to do. Together with Harold, the two men are passionate about finding the tomb, a passion which soon leads to dangerous obsession..

The Valley of the Kings  – the detail and devotion shown by the author shines from the page –

‘The long awaited, much anticipated opening of the iner chamber to Tutankhamun’s tomb too place three days later on Friday 16th February 1923.

If I shut my eyes now I can hear it still, echoing down the decades; the crying out that told me that Carter and Carnarvon had finally found their tomb

At the same time, the consequences of this discovery, what happened next, who kept the spoils  and how the ‘toxicity of tourism’ helped to destroy the very reason the Valley and its treasures were so spell binding at the height of their glory.

Map of the locations in the book The Visitors

Bookish musings

What a find! This takes you to such an historic moment in time that even if you have no interest in Egyptian history as such, then you will still be utterly amazed. Absolutely loved this adventure in the hot and humid Valley of the Kings!

The writing was immersive and detailed and took me right to the heat and humidity of the desert. The sections where Lucy was 90 and indeed the first section of the novel seemed slow in comparison to the rest of it but maybe that was just my impatience to find out more about the heart of the action so to speak. Seeing the lead up to this and the effects on Lucy’s young life was interwoven with care so that when you find out about the consequences of everything that went on there, you care as you’ve known them from the beginning. Lucy did seem older than her 11 years at times but it didn’t distract from the story. The characters (several so there is a list at the start of the book) gave a full and broad display of colonial attitudes and political upheaval.

But Lucy and Frances are at the heart of the story and it is their life and their experiences that were fascinating to read. Lucy feels lost, scared and overcome. Her life is one of secrets and betrayals and finally at the age of 90, she is able to let out what she has kept hidden for years.

Sally has done amazingly well not to let the historical fact override the story and characters in the novel. Yet historical notes do add to the overall enjoyment of the novel – what happened to the treasure found in the tomb, the infamous curse and the fate of those who ventured inside are examined as part of the overall story. It illuminates just what tourism and ultimately greed can do to our planet and our history.

A long book yes but when you close the cover after finishing, feeling hot, sticky and still fully immersed in your Egyptian experience….you will feel as if you really have witnessed a magical moment in the Valley of the Kings…

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The Postcard – Adelaide, Scotland,Cairo,London, Bruges- Leah Fleming

books

Why we love this book

Because the idea of a postcard starting a journey seems like a forgotten and lost art.

Story in a nutshell

2002, Australia

On his death bed, Melissa Boyd’s father confesses a secret and a postcard that takes her on a journey across the world and into the past.

1930s, London

Caroline has led a privileged life brought up by her Aunt Phoebe. Caroline then falls in love and elopes to Cairo but things do not turn out well. Alone with a newborn son, the war breaks out and she is compelled to join up.

When she returns, her son has gone.

Place and setting

The story of the postcard takes us from Adelaide to the wilds of Scotland to the dusty sands of Egypt via Brussels and Bruges plus other places too.
The story of the postcard takes us from Adelaide to the wilds of Scotland to the dusty sands of Egypt via Brussels and Bruges plus other places too.

The story opens in Adelaide where Melissa’s father decides to come clean for the past and opens up about what a postcard means for the family.

Immediately we go back in time to Scotland and the fictional Dalradnor lodge which is somewhere near the Clyde River and the Campsie fells. It is a landscape of rugged hills, sheep, heather and rough winds but to Callie it is home. There’s Dundee jam jars and Fair isle jumpers too which evoke atmosphere. Let’s not forget a trip in to Glasgow and tea at the tea rooms in Sauchiehall street!

Cairo – Callie’s husband works as an advisor of the British government to the king of Egypt and as they live in various hotels and she is taken to the Khan el Khali souk and the Gezira club. Glittering and glamourous yet with a hollow heart in the dusty Egyptian desert.

War time London – A time where dances were held in the club 400 in Leicester square and where the Gaiety Girls were fun and happy. Caroline meets Toby here and they elope to Cairo but whilst in London  the fun of the season is had with dances, music halls and a tea in Patisserie Valerie’s which you should visit for real! – https://www.patisserie-valerie.co.uk/default.aspx

Mentions of Paris, Bruges and Brussels too – Marthe goes back to her homeland so we learn more of where she came from and see the interesting architecture of both places.

postcards

Wow – well what a story this turned out to be!! From the blurb and even the first few chapters I though this was going to be a nice if slightly heartbreaking tale of one woman’s search for the truth over a postcard. But her journey takes the reader over the world to different times and periods in history and right up until the onset of war. Epic would be a good word to use or cinematic and I could certainly imagine this on the big screen.

Melissa starts the story in the present day and then we get swept immediately back in time to meet Callie and Phoebe only returning to Melissa briefly later on. I really wanted to know Melissa better although getting to know the story of the other two women at the same time as she did, I did feel as if I was reading the letters etc as she was.

The most intriguing part of this novel was the way in which one secret can grow and grow to have so many consequences that it doesn’t even bare thinking about. Secrets in the past and in the present day which tie the women of the 1930s and the present day together.

The genius of this novel is the way in which a real story – and if you read the dedication at the front of the novel you will understand – and the tragedy behind it all. When you read this you feel as if The Postcard just hits the tip of the iceberg of what really lies beneath.

The depiction of the Second World War is fascinating and shows the extreme lengths that some women went to in order to help the war effort.

A fascinating and heartbreaking account of family struggles, lies and love.