What if you were among the last living people to have witnessed one of history's greatest moments? Would you talk to the press, stripping off the patina of romance, and tell the world how it really was? This is the decision the elderly Lucy Payne must make when a man asks to interview her for a BBC/HBO documentary about the discovery of King Tut's tomb.
When I had been in Cairo a week, I was taken to the pyramids; it was there I saw Frances for the first time. It was January 1922, and Miss Mackenzie, in loco parentis, my guardian for our travels in Egypt, planned our visit with great care. She believed that if I could see the pyramids, "One of the greatest wonders of the ancient world, remember, Lucy, dear," and see them in the most powerful way possible—at sunrise—they would effect a change. They would stimulate; they would enthrall; they would snap me back to life, and persuade me to re-engage with the world. For six days she had postponed this visit: I wasn't yet strong enough. On the seventh day, the great moment finally arrived.—The Visitors by Sally Beauman (HarperCollins / Harper, 2014 [U.S. edition], p. 3; uncorrected proofs)
- Setting: Egypt (Cairo, Luxor), 1920s; England (London, Cambridge), 1920s and 2002
- Circumstances: When eleven-year-old Lucy is sent to Cairo to recover from typhoid fever, she and her guardian stay in Shepheard's Hotel, home to visiting archaeologists from all over the world. There she befriends Frances Winlock and learns about the excavations in the Valley of the Kings. Decades later, Lucy is approached by an American documentary filmmaker and must decide what she is willing to tell the world.
- Characters: Lucy (both young and old); famous archaeologists and their families, such as Howard Carter, Harry Burton, and Herbert Winlock; local staff; fictional characters and historic figures involved in Egyptian antiquities
- Genre: historical fiction
- Why I want to read it: As many of you know, I was an anthropologist in my youth and have maintained my strong interest in the field. Plus who isn't still fascinated with Howard Carter and the discovery of the King Tut's tomb? I know the story from an academic point of view and have read several fictional accounts of the archaeology of the Valley of the Kings; I can't wait to read Beauman's take on the discovery.
- What I'm anticipating: Even in the 1920s, there was controversy surrounding Carter and his methods, the invasion of foreign archaeologists and antiquities collectors, and Egypt's desire to maintain control over its own historical record. The individuals involved had differing thoughts on who had rights to the artifacts and how archaeological digs should be conducted. Complicating matters, the scientists themselves had personal issues: too much alcohol, class and race prejudices, and dishonesty. I am hoping Beauman delves into some of these issues.