Just about every book description screams that the world will end if the adolescent hero doesn't do something that will change his or her life "forever."
Abbott is a trained scholar of ancient Egyptian and Hebrew, and a keen observer of the archeologies of the Bronze Age Near East. His aim in this gentle, well-crafted novel is to bring to life the ordinary folk of that time, and to tell their stories with attention and care.
There are no pharoahs or pyramids in this story, no angels, no burning bushes, and no precocious adolescents. The end of the world is not in the offing.
The lives of the characters matter in a subtler but no less important way.
Makty-Rasut, the central character, is a scribe and artist who decorates the tombs of Egyptian religious officials. This means knowing Egyptian hieroglyphics as well as how to draw those characteristic side-facing figures familiar to many. He is charged with depicting "scenes from the life" of the one commissioning the tomb.
This theme of crafting moments extends out to author Abbott's practice in this book, which is not to tell the story of Makty-Rasut linearly, but in alternating scenes from his life-- and from those of other folk related to him-- that normally would be called flashbacks. In this case, the term doesn't seem appropriate, because it implies a digression. Here, the scenes are carefully ordered to create a progessively fuller picture of who Makty-Rasut is and why he behaves as he does.
"Scenes from a Life" is a "historical" by genre, but only because the story unfolds in the past. It explores much more deeply the commonalities of humans throughout the ages: who am I, where did I come from, who are my friends, what is my purpose in life. The striking thing about "Scenes" is not its unobtrusive historical accuracy-- see "Cold Mountain" for the obtrusive kind-- but its sensitivity: its assured, mature observation of people.
Sometimes the observation is gently humorous, such as when Makty has to deal with a subordinate who can't get to work on time. Sometimes it is uncomfortable, as in Makty's relationship with the non-Egyptian woman Milashuniyet. Anyone who has spent any time trying to understand and live with a member of the opposite sex will see him or herself in this literary mirror.
But this is not Peyton Place transferred to ancient Egypt. One of the more disorienting aspects of the time is the nature of male-female relationships. Unlike in ancient Greece, where fathers determined who would marry whom, in ancient Egypt and Canaan there seems to be much more variety of the kinds of relationships possible, and in the freedom to choose both partners and levels and commitment. At the same time, there exists a touching sentimentality about marriage that is utterly different from the Christian-influenced, romantic concept of happily-ever-after love.
Freedom to choose both partners and levels of commitment may seem strikingly modern, but read the book. You'll see.
"Scenes from a Life" is handsomely produced for the Kindle, and includes fascinating background material for the linguistically and historically curious. I found I had large numbers of questions to ask the author after reading this book, but at the same time was absolutely satisfied.
Is Makty's life changed forever by the end of "Scenes of a Life"? Yes, and that's enough. You won't miss the the lack of an end of the world.