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The Egyptian

The Egyptian
Finnish hardcover edition
Author Mika Waltari
Original title Sinuhe Egyptiläinen
Cover artist Björn Landström
Country Finland
Language Finnish
Genre Historical novel
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 785 pp (hardcover edition)
ISBN ISBN 1-55652-441-2 (English translation by Naomi Walford)
OCLC 49531238
894/.54133 21
LC Class PH355.W3 S513 2002

The Egyptian (Sinuhe egyptiläinen, Sinuhe the Egyptian) is a historical novel by Mika Waltari. It was first published in Finnish in 1945, and in an abridged English translation by Naomi Walford in 1949, apparently from Swedish rather than Finnish.[1] So far, it is the only Finnish novel to be adapted into a Hollywood film, which it was, in 1954.

The Egyptian is the first and the most successful, of Waltari's great historical novels. It is set in Ancient Egypt, mostly during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten of the 18th Dynasty, whom some have claimed to be the first monotheistic ruler in the world.[2]

The protagonist of the novel is the fictional character Sinuhe, the royal physician, who tells the story in exile after Akhenaten's fall and death. Apart from incidents in Egypt, the novel charts Sinuhe's travels in then Egyptian-dominated Syria (Levant), in Mitanni, Babylon, Minoan Crete, and among the Hittites.

The main character of the novel is named after a character in an ancient Egyptian text commonly known as The Story of Sinuhe. The original story dates to a time long before that of Akhenaten: texts are known from as early as the 12th dynasty.

Supporting historical characters include the old Pharaoh Amenhotep III and his conniving favorite wife, Tiy; the wife of Akhenaten, Nefertiti; the listless young Tutankhamun (King Tut), who succeeded as Pharaoh after Akhenaten's downfall; and the two common-born successors who were, according to this author, integral parts of the rise and fall of the Amarna heresy of Akhenaten: the priest and later Pharaoh Ay and the warrior-general and then finally Pharaoh, Horemheb. Though never appearing onstage, throughout the book the Hittite King Suppiluliuma I appears as a brooding threatening figure of a completely ruthless conqueror and tyrannical ruler. Other historical figures, the protagonist has direct dealings with, are: Aziru (ruler of Amurru kingdom), Thutmose (sculptor), Burna-Buriash II (Babylonian king), and, under a different name, Zannanza, son of Suppiluliuma I. Zannanza's bride is a collage of at least three historical figures: herself, first wife of Horemheb and, by him, mother of Ramesses I. Historical Horemheb died childless.

Although Waltari employed some poetic license in combining the biographies of Sinuhe and Akhenaten, he was otherwise much concerned about the historical accuracy of his detailed description of ancient Egyptian life and carried out considerable research into the subject. The result has been praised not only by readers but also by Egyptologists.

Waltari had long been interested in Akhenaten and wrote a play about him which was staged in Helsinki in 1938. World War II provided the final impulse for exploring the subject in a novel which, although depicting events that took place over 3,300 years ago, in fact reflects the contemporary feelings of disillusionment and war-weariness and carries a pessimistic message of the essential sameness of human nature throughout the ages. The threatening King Suppiluliuma has many of the overtones of Hitler.[3]

Such a message evoked a wide response in readers in the aftermath of the World War, and the book became an international bestseller, topping the bestseller lists in the USA in 1949. It remained the most sold foreign novel in the US before its place was taken over by The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. The Egyptian has been translated into 40 languages.


  • ISBN 1-55652-441-2, English translation by Naomi Walford, Independent Pub Group 2002
  • ISBN 80-85637-00-6, Czech translation by Marta Hellmuthová, Šimon & Šimon 1993 (7th ed.)
  • ISBN 87-00-19188-4, Danish translation by Inger Husted Kvan, Gyldendal 2007
  • ISBN 964-407-174-3, Persian translation by Zabihollah Mansuri, Zarrin 1985[=1364]
  • ISBN 83-07-01108-6, Polish translation by Zygmunt Łanowski, Czytelnik 1962 (ISBN is for the 1987 edition)
  • ISBN 85-319-0057-3, Portuguese translation by José Geraldo Vieira, Belo Horizonte 2002
  • ISBN 91-46-16279-8, Swedish translation by Ole Torvalds, Wahlström & Widstrand 1993
  • OCLC 492858623, Estonian translation by Johannes Aavik, Orto Publishing House 1954
  • ISBN 5-450-01801-0 Estonian translation by Johannes Aavik, Eesti Raamat 1991 (2nd ed.)
  • ISBN 978-9985-3-1983-3, Estonian translation by Piret Saluri, Varrak 2009
  • ISBN 963-07-1301-2, Hungarian translation by Endre Gombár, Európa Könyvkiadó, Budapest 1978
  • ISBN 978-86-6157-008-7, Serbian translation by Veljko Nikitović and Kosta Lozanić, NNK Internacional, Belgrade, 2011
  • ISBN 978-84-9759-665-7, Spanish translation by Manuel Bosch Barret. Plaza & Janés y Mondadori-Grijalbo.
  • ISBN 978-3-404-17009-8, German translation by Andreas Ludden. Bastei Lübbe Verlag, Cologne 2014.


  1. ^ Swedish Book Review
  2. ^ Wilson, Colin (2000). "The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved". Carroll & Graf. p. 98.  
  3. ^ Abe Brown,"Hitler's fictional avatars", p. 53
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