It helps figuring out what this book is all about when you learn that the author is Albanian, living through years of a Stalinist dictatorship before seeking political asylum in France. The novel is an allegory of such a system of government.
At the beginning of his reign, the Pharaoh Cheops doesn’t care much about building a pyramid for his tomb – he finds the idea kind of macabre and disturbing. However, his senior advisers let him know the secret of the pyramids: they don’t exist to be a tomb; they exist to be built and give the leaders a way to control the people. The building of the pyramid takes on a life of its own, with various secret (contrived?) plots being uncovered and dissenters being put to death, as well as the usual loss of life (to accidents) and treasure inherent in such a large building project, where scores of men strained to move immense blocks of stone, over and over again, year after year.
Eventually, Cheops goes a little loopy before he dies and is entombed in the pyramid. His successors build pyramids of their own, continuing the cycle.
I didn’t really enjoy reading this book; was one of those where I had to force myself to continue. I don’t dispute its literary or educational/allegorical value; I just don’t think it was very entertaining…but I guess that’s not the point.
I thought one snippet of the book in particular was interesting, but I have no idea if it is accurate or not: Cheops is looking at his father’s (also a Pharaoh) histories after he died. There are two – one of the events from his life, which is quite thin compared to the second, the history of events from his afterlife. However, the afterlife history is pretty monotonous. “There was the day of Seneferu. Then the night of Seneferu. Then followed the day of Seneferu, followed again by the night of Seneferu….” etc ad infinitum. If that’s all immortality has to offer, then why bother?