Author(s)
Mika Waltari
Illustrator(s)
Publication date
1945
Publisher
WSOY
Format info
779 pages

The Egyptian

Sinuhe egyptiläinen

The spell-binding first major novel set in ancient Egypt

Set in Ancient Egypt during the 18th dynasty and the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten, The Egyptian became an instant international bestseller upon its publication in 1945. The Egyptian is narrated by Sinuhe, a physician who becomes an advisor to both pharaohs and kings and whose travels take him from Egypt to Syria, Babylon to Mitanni, and Hattusa to Crete at the end of Minoan civilisation.

The novel describes life in 14th century Egypt, painting a timeless story of the brutal reality of human civilisation, whereby the strong oppress the weak and the poor suffer at the expense of the rich. Pharaoh Akhenaten, whose reign was marked by internal conflict, tried to bring monotheistic worship of Aton to Egypt. Waltari paints him as a utopian dreamer and an out-of-touch visionary. Meanwhile Sinuhe is self-centred and arrogant, but ultimately well-meaning. Through Sinuhe’s royal connections, Waltari describes the palace’s sexual liaisons, murders and shifting political alliances in great detail.

Translated into over 40 languages, The Egyptian has been praised by Egyptology scholars for its historical accuracy. The novel’s depiction of the geopolitical situation of the Middle East is thought to be an allegory for World War II and its pessimistic message about the persistence of mankind’s flawed nature has long fascinated readers. It is the most internationally famous and translated Finnish novel in history.

The Egyptian was turned into a film by Michael Curtiz and 20th Century Fox in 1954. The film was nominated for an Academy Award a year later.

Mika Waltari (1908-1979) is the most popular 20th century Finnish writer who is best known for his magnus opus The Egyptian. Over a career that spanned five decades, Waltari published well over 100 works, of which 200 translations have been made. His works include at least 30 novels, 20 plays and 15 novellas, as well as short stories, poems, screenplays and essays. In 1957 he was appointed to the Academy of Finland, having previously won the state literature award five times. Waltari’s works have been translated into over 40 languages.

Material

Finnish PDF
English synopsis
English sample translation
Arabic sample translation

Rights sold

Arabic (National House for Printing and Publishment 1955)
Belarussian (Encyclopedix 2004), rights reverted
Bulgarian (Narodna kultura 1986 / Paper Tiger 1994 / Ednorog 2002), rights reverted
Catalan (Plaza & Janés 1963 / Proa 1995)
Czech (Vyšehrad 1965 / Odeon 1988 / Simon&Simon 1993 / Český klub 2002 / Albatros 2017)
Croatian (Otokar Kersovani 1956 / A3DATA 1996)
Danish (Vilhelm Prior 1948 / Gyldendal 2004), rights reverted
Dutch (Van Holkema & Warendorf 1949 / Van Gennep 2013)
English (UK: Putnam 1949 / Hamilton & Co. 1963 & US: Putnam’s 1949 / Doubleday 1987 / Buccaneer 2002, rights reverted)
Estonian (Varrak 2009)
Farsi (Novin 1999)
French (Jéhéber 1947 / Olivier Orban 1978 / Gallimard Folio 1981 / France loisirs 1981 / Plon 1993 / Grand livre du mois 1997 / France loisirs 2014)
German (Linden 1948 / Paul Neff 1988 / Lübbe 2006)
Greek (Mich. Saliveros 1955 / Cactus 1989 / Kalendis 2003), rights reverted
Hebrew (Am Oved 1954 / Carmel 2005), rights reverted
Hindi (Shabdakar 1969)
Hungarian (Európa 1985), rights reverted
Icelandic (Odds Björnsson 1952)
Italian (Rizzoli 1950 / RCS Libri 2000) / Rizzoli 2016)
Japanese (Okakura Shobo 1950)
Korean (Dongyok 2007), rights reverted
Latvian (Jana Rozes 2004), rights reverted
Lithuanian (Tyto Alba 1997)
Mari, Russian (Sarta 2002), rights reverted
Norwegian (Aschehoug 1948 / Aschehoug 1997)
Polish (Czytelnik 1983 / 69 1993 / Ksiaznica 2003 / Ksiaznica 2014)
Portuguese (Bertrand 1961)
Portuguese, Brazilian (Gráfica 1950)
Romanian (Univers 1999 / Polirom 2003)
Russian (Russiko Rumjanzev 1994 / Ruslania 2003 / Atticus-Azbooka 2019)
Serbian (Tabernakl 2008 / NKK International 2011), rights reverted
Slovenian (Drzavna 1955)
Slovakian (Slvenský spisovatel 1978 / Ikar 2003 / Premedia 2016)
Spanish (Jose Janés 1950 / deBolsillo 2004 / Random House Mondadori 2012 / Debolsillo 2019)
Swedish (Schildts 1946 / Wahlström & Widstrand 1947)
Thai (Bosof 2014), rights reverted
Turkish (Türkiye Yayinevi 1955)

Reviews

The Egyptian is an ambitious… historical novel that was a big success in the US in its time (it was the best-selling novel of both 1948 and 1949!).” – The Guardian

The Egyptian contains all the ingredients of Americans relish: war, women, intrigue, romance, assail, horror, and lavish scenes of violence, indulgence, suffering, and death. Waltari has successfully combined research, imagination, and the cunning of a good taleteller in bringing the generation of Akhnaton to life… Well-paced, richly tinted, and tightly stitched narrative…”New York Herald Tribune

“An intricate tale that brings ancient Egypt alive… In truth, Mika Waltari’s story leaves readers with the feeling that they have visited a hauntingly familiar world, despite the passage of over three thousand years.” Lynda S. Robinson, from her foreword

“A splendid novel… colourful, provocative, completely absorbing. An exciting, vivid and minute recreation.” Edmund Fuller, Sat. Review of Literature

“A powerful novel of impressive erudition… As a picture of ancient Egypt, there has been nothing quite like it.” Library Journal

“A grand immersion into an epic tale.” Philadelphia Inquirer

“Mika Waltari masterfully combines historical reconstruction, exuberant imagination and the talent of a great storyteller.” Thomas Sugrue, Time magazine

“Epic-making… First and foremost a great novel of human beings, human passions and seething humanity. Grand storytelling spiced with wit, humour, irony and wisdom.”Will Vance, Hartford Courant

“Sensational… All readers should be warned, however, that its fascination will keep them spellbound for many hours.” Edward A. Laycock, Boston Globe

“It became a huge international success, selling more copies in America than any other novel in translation before Umberto Eco’s The name of the Rose… Through the eyes of Sinuhe, readers get a highly coloured reconstruction of an era of change and upheaval… and one man’s search for meaning amidst apparent chaos. 100 Must-read Historical Novels

“Along with Memoirs of Hadrian, this is one of the few books which revives the ancient world with disturbing and divine magic. A thoroughly admirable, powerful and poetic novel.” P.-J. Franceschini, Le Monde

“… an attractive work which will captivate readers from the beginning to the end.” – Jean Clémentin, Le Canard enchaîné

“How will you now ever forget the sensual body of Nefernefer, the virginal body of Minea of Crete, or the heady body of Merit?” Jean Bueges, Les Nouvelles littéraires

“An astonishing masterpiece … A perfect remake of an era which captures readers just like a detective story would. A must-read.” René Tavernier, Le Progrès de Lyon

The Egyptian is an eventful novel … It can be read with the heart as much as with the desire to learn.” – Claude Fleury, Le Républicain lorrain