The Wanderer Has Great Setting But Where’s the Story?

Michael Karvajalka  is a disillusioned Finn making a pilgrimage from Rome to the Holy Land in 1527.  Wimpy Michael and his muscle-bound half-brother, Andy, are born victims. Michael’s dog, Rael, is brighter than both of them together.

En route, Michael falls for Guila, a woman with one blue and one brown eye who tells fortunes. She says she’s an innocent virgin, and Michael believes everything he’s told.

When their ship is boarded by Turks,  Michael and Andy convert to Islam to save their necks.

Michael, Andy, and Guila end up as slaves in Algiers.

Michael, who is as honest as he is naive, becomes a yes-man the Grand Vizer Ibraheim of the Ottoman Empire. Andy capitalizes on his wrestling and artillery skills, while Guila, now Michael’s wife, schemes her way into the Seraglio.

All three are caught up in the European conflict that spilled over when the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope struggled for domination.

Mika Waltari muddles through which what could have been a Middle Eastern perspective on Renaissance history unaided by either a plausible plot or plausible characters. He seems to have just recycled his earlier bestseller The Egyptian by advancing the calendar a few centuries.

Don’t bother going after this wanderer.

The Wanderer
by Mika Waltari
Trans. Naomi Walford
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1951
438 ages
My grade: C-

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Adventurer Is A Bad Trip

Michael Bast is 6 or 7 when his Finland home, Abo, is sacked by the Jutes.  Pierjo Furfoot, whom local children call a witch, takes him in. Michael’s goal is to become a priest, but the 16th century Catholic Church won’t accept take bastards.

Michael and brawny pal, Andy Karlsson, are drawn into a series of misadventures that take them all over Europe just as Luther’s reforms split entire countries along religious lines. They witness torture and mayhem from Finland to Rome, and have a hand in some of it themselves – with the noblest of intentions, of course.

Fortunately neither Michael nor Andy has any real political or religious convictions. They fall in with whichever side talks longest, thereby convincing Michael, and whichever pays best, thereby winning over Andy.

Michael is the stereotypical scholar full of good intentions and without a shred of common sense. Andy is an illiterate muscle man whose shrewd instinct for spotting a con snatches Michael from mayhem again and again.

To follow Mika Waltari’s blood-soaked plot requires a thorough knowledge of Renaissance and Reformation history. Understanding Waltari’s cardboard characters requires nothing but suspension of disbelief.

The Adventurer
By Mika Waltari
Trans Naomi Walford
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1950
377  pages
1950 bestseller #9
My Grade: C-
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Egyptian Joins Pessimism to Pyramids

The Egyptian is a fictional memoir of the life of a physician in the days of the pharaohs. The narrator, Sinuhe, is an old man, sick of gods and kings. He says he writes for himself rather than for posterity.

Unfortunately, Mika Waltari published the “memoir,”  inflicting Sinuhe’s misery on readers for 500 pages.

Readers will find a new interesting historical bits in this novel, but it’s entertainment value is nil.

Sinuhe’s medical skills take him all over the Middle East. His specialty is brain surgery: he drills holes in people’s heads to let out the badness.

Sinuhe meets heads of countries and commanders of armies, patches up wounded soldiers, treats the poor for free. When necessity demands, he hastens the deaths of enemies of Egypt.

Back in Thebes, he sides with the party of the newly-created god, Aton, against the followers of Ammon. The religious controversy ends in wholesale slaughter.

Sinuhe is exiled to end his days living up to his name, “the One Who Is Alone.”

Waltari’s novel is packed with sex and violence related with all the passion of the police blotter. Only Sinuhe’s servants, Kaptah and Muti, feel like living people. The rest of the characters are just hieroglyphics.

The Egyptian: A Novel
By Mika Waltari
Trans. Naomi Walford
G.P. Putnan’s Sons,  1949
503 pages
1949 Bestseller # 1
My Grade: C-

© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni