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Napolean’s Pyramids Q&A

William Dietrich author

Q: Why the leap from the Roman Empire of your last two books to Napoleon Bonaparte?
The idea of using Napoleon’s epic 1798 invasion of Egypt as the basis of a novel had been percolating for years, and its history had many of the same elements that drew me to the Roman period: vivid characters, a clash of cultures, great battles, and evocative ruins. When I realized there was an opportunity to add archeological mystery, I was hooked.

Q: Why is it called Napoleon’s Pyramids?
A: The Great Pyramid is a vault of secrets that our hero, Ethan Gage, must penetrate because the fate of the French invasion, and world history, hinges on it. In real life, that pyramid has baffled visitors for thousands of years. When Arab tomb robbers broke past massive granite plugs that had sealed the interior chambers, no pharaoh was found buried there. Why? And why does this pyramid have such a precise geographic placement, measurements that correspond to the dimensions of our planet, and relationships in its dimensions that seem to encode mathematical concepts like Pi and the Fibonacci Sequence? How did ancient Egyptians know so much?

Q: Is that what drew Napoleon to Egypt?
A: No, it was the scientists and engineers that Napoleon brought along who began the measurement and investigation that led what remains a mystery today. Bonaparte’s purpose was geopolitical. Unable to invade England because of the British navy, the French decided to seize Egypt from the Ottoman Empire to start a colony, and use it as a springboard to create an empire in Asia and contest the British in India. None of those dreams were realized, of course.

Q: How did you research this novel?
A: First I read everything I could find on Napoleon’s expedition, including eye-witness accounts. Most of the details, and the characters’ attitudes toward Egypt, are taken from history. Masonic lore plays a key role in the book, so I read about that intriguing organization. I did a great deal of research into ancient Egypt and the pyramids, and into the mystics of the 18th Century who speculated on a culture that was still mysterious at that time. Finally I toured Egypt, crawling through the pyramids as my hero does and lying in the Great Pyramid’s sarcophagus as Napoleon is reputed to have done.

Q: Are the pyramids impressive in person?
A: Mesmerizing, conveying a sense of time and antiquity I’ve never experienced anywhere else. The architecture is eerily precise, and yet the inner chambers have dimensions that don’t always make apparent sense. Then there is their setting, on the edge of the desert next to the lush greenbelt that follows the Nile. Egypt rose in an odd place with a mighty river but almost no rain, clear, starry skies, and a knife-like boundary between the lush Eden of the Nile and the harsh wasteland of sand and rock.

Q: Why did you create an American as hero in a French expedition?
A: I had an American caught up in a Nazi expedition in my first novel, “Ice Reich.” My heroes are ordinary men and women caught up in great events, who must find resources they didn’t know they had to survive and prevail. Ethan Gage allows me to make the kind of observations of the French invasion and Mameluke Egypt that an outsider would make, giving the reader a clearer view of this extraordinary historical adventure. Similarly the story’s heroine, Astiza, gives voice to Egyptian perceptions of Western culture.

Q: This book has a startling ending. Will we find out more?
A: I’m working on a sequel about Ethan Gage based on Napoleon’s 1799 invasion of the Holy Land. The characters’ lives will be continued, and more questions will be answered.

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