A thriller/romance that intertwines a story of a young anthropologist in modern-day Cairo with that of a few crucial years in the life of Jesus Christ’s family.
Justine returns to Cairo for the first time since her childhood, when she lived with her Egyptian mother and her American father, who pursued an archaeological dig. Now an adult and a cultural anthropologist, Justine has come to observe the area’s fledgling community schools for girls, but her memories of her previous time in Egypt, when her parents were still together and life was full of mystery and opportunity, have her in thrall. During a close encounter with an earthquake, she literally stumbles upon a little book, a codex, in an ancient crypt where she’s nearly buried alive. It turns out to be a rather remarkable diary—one with profound implications for religious communities already roiling with discontent. The setup allows Lambert to tell all manner of stories, addressing the prospects for Egyptian women—“Am I heir of Isis or of today’s Islamic women cloaked in hijabs?”—to the ancient desire, still with us, of established religions to destroy pagan documents. The prose can be uneven, and sometimes a bit overwritten: “Sunlight skims across the water beneath a pale lavender mist as I watch the Great River Nile come to life around me, warm sand rising between my toes.” For the most part, however, the novel delivers a tautly suspenseful historical tale. In particular, Lambert sharply ties together early Christian beliefs with the plight of females in traditional societies, and effectively depicts the fears unleashed when entrenched beliefs are challenged. She also keeps a sure hand on the romance plotline, letting it percolate and flare within manageable boundaries.
An often engaging thriller/romance, and a smart evocation of modern Egypt.