16 March 2009

Review: Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George

My Summary and Thoughts. The Memoirs of Cleopatra takes us from the time the Egyptian queen was about twelve years old until her death at age thirty-nine. The story is told from Cleopatra's viewpoint, and we watch the young girl as she matures from a naive teenager to a politically savvy and manipulative world leader. It is a captivating story of the fall of the Roman republic and the complex politics of the Mediterranean in the late years before Christ.

Cleopatra comes across as a woman who puts her country before everything, sometimes even before her children. Because of Egypt's wealth and climate, it was a coveted ally and potential prize for Rome. When the young queen meets Julius Caesar, she is still learning about the wider world. Her alliance with Caesar and her trip to Rome taught her much about how to rule her people with a caring yet strong hand. She also learned of the dangers of power when Caesar was stabbed to death in the senate building.

We travel with Cleopatra as she visits her domain, learning through her words about the religions and cultures of Alexandria, greater Egypt, and her other possessions. She had a gift for languages and an ability to win over almost everyone with whom she had a face-to-face audience. She was blessed with capable, loyal, and trustworthy ministers, doctors, and personal servants. And she was determined to pass her throne on to her children.

By the time Marc Antony entered her life, Cleopatra had no illusions. She may have loved Antony, but she was also well aware of his faults and how she could use him to better herself and her people. The reader is left to question what Antony's fate would have been had he not been pressured to proclaim Cleopatra to be his wife or if Octavian had not befriended Agrippa. The queen's ambitions may have been the ultimate downfall of not only herself but also her Roman husband.

The book ends with an author's note about the historical basis of the story. George is clear about which plot lines and characters are factual and which are not. I did some quick research and am satisfied that George doesn't stray too far from what is known about the queen. I did find two glaring anachronisms. Cleopatra mentions paper several times. I don't believe paper reached Egypt until long after the queen was dead. Furthermore, she mentions having ships of the line, which I believe is a seventeenth-century term. There may have been other slips, but I either wasn't aware of them or I've forgotten them.

The story was engrossing throughout. I've long had an interest in the age of Julius Caesar and his nephew Octavian (later Augustus). It was interesting to see the events through Cleopatra's eyes. Her relationship with Octavian was hostile for a number of reasons, including the fact that she was mother to Caesar's son and insisted that Antony divorce Octavian's sister. Rome needed Egypt's treasury and its grain, and Octavian would stop at nothing to secure both.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook, which was brilliantly narrated by Donada Peters. The paperback is about 975 pages, and the audio comes in at 49 hours! The novel translated wonderfully to audio, and I have no doubt that it would be just as good or better in print.

I read this book to meet a number of challenges, listed below. To learn more about a challenge and to see what others are reading click on the title in the sidebar. If you have reviewed this book and are not listed in the links section, let me know and I'll add your link.

Print: Published by St. Martin's Press, 1998
ISBN-13: 9780312187453
Unabridged audio: Published by Books on Tape
Challenges: Winter Reading, A-Z Author, 999, 100+, Audiobooks, Well-Seasoned Reader, Buy 1 and Read
YTD: 21
Rating: B+

Author's website
The Owl's Nest Blog
Bianca's Book Blog


Sandy Nawrot 3/16/09, 7:07 AM  

And we are quite familiar with the long audio books, aren't we? Before I started Outlander, a 15 disc book seemed long to me, but now...

I am amazed at writers that can take a historical figure and bring them to life with some poetic license. I will watch out for this one in the audio book stacks in the library (after I finish my two hundredth and some disc of Outlander!).

Chrisbookarama 3/16/09, 7:17 AM  

I tried reading this years ago and couldn't get into it at the time. I still have it waiting for me.

Anonymous,  3/16/09, 7:24 AM  

This sounds good, but historical books and I work like oil and vinegar.

Anonymous,  3/16/09, 7:34 AM  

I read this one a few years ago and loved it. I also read MARY CALLED MAGDALENE (great) and HELEN OF TROY (which I didn't really like that much - not interested in Greek mythology).

I like historical fiction and think she and Sharon Kay Penman are masters of the genre.

Anonymous,  3/16/09, 10:26 AM  

I love HisFic and I haven't read anything from this period. I'm going to have to give this one a shot! But not for a long while. After Pillars, I'm sticking to shorter books for the time being. :o)

Literary Feline 3/16/09, 10:53 AM  

Many years ago a coworker of mine recommended I try something by Margaret George. I'm afraid I still have yet to, but I do have a copy of this book on my shelf to read. It was the one that most interested me. I am glad you enjoyed it, Beth, even with the discrepencies you noted. Honestly, that's probably not something that would have stood out for me.

Anonymous,  3/16/09, 12:21 PM  

Congrats on finishing the audio book! Your review was great. I don't read a lot of historical fiction, so I have to be picky, but I am going to add this to my list :)

Jo-Jo 3/16/09, 12:30 PM  

I haven't read anything by this author yet, but this does sound great. I've really been enjoyin historical fiction so I think I will have to read this one. Thanks for the review.

Michelle 3/16/09, 12:31 PM  

I loved your review. I have never read Margaret George, but I love to read Historical Fiction. Thanks for the review...

Mana 3/16/09, 2:02 PM  

am also keen to read this book..

Robin M 3/16/09, 3:25 PM  

Great review and congrats on making through all those hours of listening to the audio book. I don't do so well with audiobooks as you know. I'll have to check out the book,though. Sounds good.

Penny 3/16/09, 4:42 PM  

After reading Doomed Queens, I find I'm itching to read more Hist or Hist Fic. I think I'm going to have to check this one out!

Melody 3/17/09, 4:56 AM  

This sounds like a good read, Beth! Thanks for the great review! I guess I'm a little intimidated by lengthy books and audiobooks don't work for me.

Anonymous,  3/17/09, 7:12 AM  

I really liked this when I read it years ago. I'm glad you did too and I'm impressed that you got through so many hours of listening!

Little nitpicky things always bug me too. I didn't remember them in this book, but I had one recently that really bothered me.

S. Krishna 3/17/09, 5:10 PM  

I really enjoyed this book. Great review!

bermudaonion 3/17/09, 9:49 PM  

I'm so impressed that you stuck with it for 49 hours! It must have been good to keep your interest for that long.

J.C. Montgomery 3/18/09, 6:37 PM  

I'm so happy to come across such a nice review of this. On a whim, I bought this at a library sale and have wondered if it was an impulse purchase I'd regret.

Now I see I won't. Thank you!

Sadako 3/18/09, 7:09 PM  

Ooh, great review. Rome in general in that time period interests me, and Cleopatra as well. Sounds like a good read.

Jenners 3/18/09, 9:59 PM  

49 hours! My goodness! That is one heck of a lot of time to commit! I think the idea sounds promising but I don't know if I am THAT interested in the topic.

Ladytink_534 3/20/09, 6:54 PM  

Ooh, very cool. Yeah, I'd have to listen to the audio book too lol.

Just Mom 3/23/09, 9:16 PM  

Beth, You make this one sound very appealing despite the 49 hour time investment required! Great review.

Jenny Girl 4/2/09, 3:24 PM  

I read this book several years ago and enjoyed most of it. I didn't quite finish it because Mark Antony really worked my nerves. I thought the depcition of Cleopatra matched what I always think of her as: strong, unafraid, fighting for herself and her country.
Not saying she was perfect, but given the circumstances did the best she could. She was too good for some of those men :)

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