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An imaginative retelling of the life and death of the Egyptian femme fatale, by Mexican poet, playwright, and novelist Boullosa (Leaving Tabasco, 2001, etc.).

History, of course, is written by the victors, but every now and then one of the vanquished is able to make her voice heard across the centuries. In this case, the record is set straight by the Queen of the Nile herself: Cleopatra, one of the greatest rulers of the ancient world, who seduced Julius Caesar, fell in love with Marc Antony, and backed the wrong horse at the Battle of Actium. All that stuff about the poison asp is hooey, apparently, concocted by the victorious Octavian and his chroniclers as one of the pious myths about the origins of the Roman Empire. Cleopatra survived Antony and Actium alike, and proceeded to scheme her way back into the picture. How do we know? From the secret chronicles of her faithful scribe Diomedes, who recorded the queen’s own version of the events. Apparently, in the aftermath of Antony’s defeat, Cleopatra fled Egypt with a band of pirates and went on a voyage of discovery that would have put Odysseus to shame had Homer ever heard of it—encountering Tritons, Amazons, magical bulls, and high priestesses of the cult of Isis (of whom she might very well have been the incarnation). She never does get her kingdom back, and in the end she dies at the hand of a traitor, but there was more to her than the Romans (even Marc Antony) thought. And, thanks to Diomedes, the world can now know the truth.

The parts of this tale that stick to the history—real or imagined—of ancient Rome and Egypt are lively, intriguing, and well-wrought in every detail; but when Boullosa ventures into the netherworlds of the Amazons and all the rest her story acquires a Munchausen-like absurdity that even García Márquez would find hard to stomach.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-8021-1753-8
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2003


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