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Roxane Bicker: Egyptologist and author (interview), by Abraham I. Fernández Pichel

Roxane Bicker: Egyptologist and author (interview), by Abraham I. Fernández Pichel

Hello, this Abraham I. Fernández Pichel, Principal Investigator (PI) of the Egypopcult project at the University of Lisbon. Today is the second interview for the dissemination activities of this project, in which we ask different authors to discuss their work related to Egyptomania and contemporary popular culture. Today’s guest is Egyptologist Roxane Bicker, who works at the Staatlichen Museum Ägyptischer Kunst in Munich (Germany), but she is also a writer and, together with Nora Kuch, a conductor of the podcast “Mummies & Magic. Altägypten in der Popkultur”, which I can recommend to anyone interested in the subject (link).

Roxane started writing at a young age, and of all her works, the trilogy “Der Herr das Schakals” will be the focus today. The trilogy was published between 2020-2021 and the books are titled Inepu, Uaset and Usir.

Thank you, Roxane, for joining me today to talk about your work and your oeuvre.

Abraham: After seeing your CV, I wondered what interested you first: Egyptology or writing?

Roxane: Since I became interested in writing at a very young age, I can say that the interest in Egypt came later in my life. I started writing very early on, and only later did I find that stories set in or with elements of ancient Egypt could interest me in writing a novel.

Abraham: I find it very interesting that you are an Egyptologist at the renowned University of Göttingen and now working in a museum in Munich on the one hand and that you write books with Egyptianised narratives and elements on the other. To what extent has your academic profile influenced the literary universe in the trilogy? Did this simplify the writing process or make it more complex?

Roxane: At the museum in Munich, I work mainly in museum education, so it is this facet that interests me most and not necessarily the purely academic perspective. Therefore, it is perhaps this work at the museum that has most influenced my way of recreating ancient Egypt and as a decisive point in this respect I can cite that, within the activities organised by the museum, I had the opportunity to meet Diana Hillebrand, a fiction writer, and the contact with her made me want to write stories about ancient Egypt. As far as questions of historical accuracy are concerned, I have always thought that these questions should not be decisive for an author in that I did not want my trilogy to be a historical novel, but a story that takes place in a later time but in which the Egyptian gods are at work.

Abraham: Did you conceive the novel Inepu as the first part of a trilogy after its publication in 2020, or did the idea emerge gradually from the beginning?

Roxane: When I wrote the first book, the initial manuscript of which I wrote in a very short time, it was conceived as a single volume. However, when the book was finished, I realized, the story was not and so I wrote the two following volumes which were published in late 2020 and 2021.

Abraham: The starting point of your first novel, Inepu, is a robbery and murder in the Munich Glyptothek. This book draws on various genres, such as crime, thriller, mystery, history, etc. Which works in these genres influenced you to write your trilogy?

Roxane: It is not easy to answer this question because there are many images and words that could have influenced my works. In general, I have to say that there is no specific work or works that have influenced me but many at the same time, which together form a precise image of ancient Egypt that I tried to integrate into my plots. Of course, I have my clear cultural references, but I am not sure that they have influenced my work individually, but rather as a whole.

Abraham: In this first book, there are two main female characters, Rosa and Daisy, in 19th century Germany. Why did you choose this particular period of German history and what role of women did you want to emphasise in the novel? Were you inspired by other heroines in literature or in the cinema?

Roxane: I have to say that for me it was important to show all those female figures in history who existed but were silenced or subordinated to the male figures, who are the ones we mostly know today. There were many women who played a notable role, even though at first you might think that the role played by Rosa and Daisy in my novel might seem anachronistic. It is not, and we have the example of remarkable women who appear very early on linked to the history of Egyptology, as was the case of Amelia Edwards, among others. As for the historical moment, I originally wanted to write a steampunk novel, so the chronological framework was the one I finally chose, late 19th century Europe. However, I finally eliminated all these science-fiction elements and focused on other types of narratives, which led me to keep this period, but set the story in Germany.

Fig. 1: Roxane Bicker and Nora Kuch before recording a new Mummies & Magic podcast (Source: Instagram)

Abraham: In the second book, Aset, we find ourselves at the end of the 19th century, but this time in the south of Egypt, in Aswan. In the novel there are tombs, and more robberies, murders, the desert… and Daisy and Rosa again. What interested you about this Egypt in the transition from the 19th to the 20th century?

Roxane: In 2015 I had the opportunity to be in Egypt, in Aswan, to do a training course in museology. Then I was able to spend some time in the city, living in the house of the German archaeological mission, and the places I visited then were fundamental because they were the ones I recreated in this second novel. Of course, I adapted these places to how they must have been at the end of the 19th century, but in essence I kept many of these contemporary elements that I was able to visit myself during this stay. Those were also the years of the great presence of Western nations in Egypt, with many archaeologists excavating, taking pieces for European museums… The colonialist aspect is of course there, but I wanted to vindicate the Egyptian side, giving enormous importance to the Egyptian characters and showing an Egypt somewhat different from that of the postcards.

Abraham: In Usir, the third part of the trilogy, the events of the plot take place partly in Italy, why did you choose this country for this volume?

Roxane: With the third part I wanted to exploit the enormous importance of one of the central characters of the trilogy, Isis, with the spread of her cult in antiquity in southern Italy, where we know she had one of her main sanctuaries, in Pompeii. For this I wanted to visit Napoli in 2020, but it was just at the time of the pandemic, so all the research I had to do afterwards to document myself had to be done online. It was fortunate, however, that Neapolitan museums have a wealth of materials accessible to users on the internet. I was also interested in applying a different perspective on the Egyptian, this time through the testimonies of the Greco-Roman world, hence Italy was the chosen location.

Abraham: Glyptothek, Egyptology, excavations, museums, Munich… how much of yourself is in these novels and their characters?

Roxane: It’s hard to say. Actually, as I was writing the trilogy, I didn’t have a model in mind for the construction of the characters and, of course, everything has in some way to do with what you experience and what you know, so there are certainly things of me in the characters. Also, as I said before, many of the elements of late 19th century Egypt that appear in the second book have to do with my own experience in Egypt.

Fig. 2: The trilogy Die Herren des Schakals by Roxane Bicker, for sale on her personal website (Link)

Abraham: What do Inepu, Aset and Usir, i.e. Anubis, Isis and Osiris, look like in your novel? Did you try to reproduce their essential aspects as they appear in Egyptian mythology, or did you want to portray them differently in order to adapt them to the fictional plot of the trilogy?

Roxane: From the outset I wanted to respect some of the main characteristics of the Egyptian gods in mythology, but it is true that, especially in the case of Isis, I wanted to focus on aspects of these gods that are not the best known. In addition, I wanted to apply a multiple perspective, recreating an Isis that has a lot to do with her vision in the Roman world, so I wanted to take into account the idea of the interpretation that the ancient Romans and Greeks made of certain Egyptian divinities and many other ideas. The result is a mixture of mythology with an evident creative freedom in some aspects.

Abraham: Finally: I’ve read that you’re not ruling out a fourth part. Is that true?

Roxane: I already have a prequel to the trilogy in the works, although not yet finally edited, that tells the events in ancient Egypt that will lead to the first novel, and I also want to further develop the narratives of some of the characters in the first novel as a spinoff. I am working on this as time permits, so I hope to move in this direction soon and report back to you.

 

Thank you, dear Roxane, for your time and of course for your work. I am very much looking forward to entering your books in the Egypopcult project database soon.

Soon our users will be able to see them in the “Books” section of our database. Stay tuned!

This interview was conducted on 6 May 2024.

 

 

Featured image: Roxane Bicker at the recent presentation of her recent works Wellen Brecher and Windgejammer (Source: Personal website)

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Project Manager

Abraham I. Fernández Pichel

Researchers

Abraham I. Fernández Pichel - Rogério Sousa - Eleanor Dobson - Filip Taterka - Guillermo Juberías Gracia - José das Candeias Sales
Nuno Simões Rodrigues - Samuel Fernández-Pichel - Sara Woodward - Tara Sewell-Lasater - Thomas Gamelin – Leire Olabarría
Alfonso Álvarez-Ossorio - Jean-Guillaume Olette-Pelletier - Marc Orriols-Llonch


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