Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"Cleopatra’s Shadows"

Emily Holleman is a Brooklyn-based writer. After a two-year editing stint at where she had to worry a lot about politics, celebrities and memes, she returned to her true passion: fiction. She's currently working on a set of historical novels that reimagines the saga of Cleopatra from the perspective of her younger sister, Arsinoe. The first of these, Cleopatra's Shadows, is currently available from Little, Brown.

Holleman applied the Page 69 Test to Cleopatra's Shadows and reported the following:
Cleopatra’s Shadows shifts between two perspectives—Arsinoe, Cleopatra’s younger sister, abandoned in Alexandria when their father flees the city, and their elder half-sister, Berenice, whose coup prompt the king’s flight. So, whomever we land on with p. 69, one of our protagonists will lose out (which, given how frequently siblings in their dynasty killed one another, is a pretty fitting fate).
“No matter how I act, you call me a child. I speak to my sister, I plead with wit and wisdom for my life, and still I’m nothing but a child to you. And so what does it matter if I now rave in front of you and Alexander and all the city too? What punishment can you give me that will match what harm Berenice might inflict at any moment?” She spat her words, her venom. But it didn’t make her feel any better.

Ganymedes studied her for a long while. She refused to cower beneath his gaze. And then he spoke. “You wish that I would congratulate you, to pat your back and stroke your hair for not getting yourself killed… You wish to bask in rosy words, my dear, and pretend you live in some rosy world. I know that well.”

Arsinoe’s pride burned because the eunuch was right. She had wanted all that praised, and she wished she’d let Alexander run off that she might carry her shame alone. But when the boys squeezed his fingers around her wrist, she didn’t pry them away.
This excerpt captures a quieter moment in the novel. There’s no active rebellion, no imminent threat of death, no statues weeping tears of blood. Instead, we see nine-year-old Arsinoe fighting to establish new footing with her only confederates: her mentor and teacher Ganymedes and her friend Alexander. Arsinoe has found her voice—and convinced the new queen, her half-sister Berenice, to spare her life. She’s done so employing every rhetorical trick in the book; everything Ganymedes has taught her. On one level, Arsinoe realizes the stakes have changed: whatever authority her tutor has is now dwarfed by the power of her sister. But she can’t help herself; she still yearns for the comforts of her girlhood: the encouraging words of her teacher.

In many ways, Cleopatra’s Shadows is Arsinoe’s coming-of-age story, and so it’s appropriate that on page 69, we find her here: caught between Ganymedes castigating her for clinging to that rosy childhood world and Alexander tethering her to it with his fingers wrapped about her wrist.
Visit Emily Holleman's website.

Writers Read: Emily Holleman.

--Marshal Zeringue