20 November 2014

Excerpt Thursday: SHE WROTE ON CLAY by Shirley Graetz

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Shirley Graetz with her latest release,  SHE WROTE ON CLAY. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free audiobook copy of She Wrote on Clay. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Set nearly 3,800 years ago on the banks of the Euphrates, the novel traces the journey of Iltani, a gifted girl from a scribal family, who dreams of becoming a scribe. In order to fulfill her destiny she enters the gagû, becoming a nadītu, an elite class of monastic women. There, she is expected to lead a sheltered life and be cared for by her aunt and taught by a fellow nadītu-scribe. But life is not that simple; she is soon forced to deal with many unforeseen misfortunes.  After eventually reaching her goal, she is invited by a male scribe to take part in engraving the stele for King Hammurabi; an invitation which will cause turmoil and uncertainty in her peaceful existence.
            The unique feature of She Wrote on Clay is not only the exceptional account of the nadītu women, but also the integration into the plot of original Akkadian material (cuneiform letters, contracts etc.), vivid testimonies, which are rarely encountered by anyone outside the field of Assyriology.

**An Excerpt from She Wrote on Clay**

At this point in the novel, Iltani is living in the gagû and eagerly awaits her first lessons with her tutor (Amat-Mamu) who has been hired by her father to teach her. She is taken to her house by one of the servants.

            Translations of original ancient texts and words in akkadian are shown in italics.

* * *
            Amat-Mamu’s house looked enormous. From the courtyard, Iltani counted five entrances to the different rooms, more than her own family had. The servant led her to a room full of tablets that were scattered on wooden shelves along the wall and packed into reed hampers on the floor. Everywhere she looked, she saw clay tablets in different sizes.
            “By Šamaš and Aja!” she exclaimed in astonishment. There were far more clay tablets here then her father had. She had never seen so many in one room before.
            “Please do not touch anything until Amat-Mamu arrives,” said the servant, and with a nod of her head, she left the room.
            Iltani had to fight the urge to pick up one of the tablets. But she would never have done such a thing without permission. There were several cushions on the floor and beside them a small basket and a pile of styluses and unshaped reeds. Iltani tried to imagine what they would do this first lesson. Perhaps Amat-Mamu will be interested in what she has learned with Abu, or ask her to inscribe a few signs. That’s what she hoped at least. Whatever happened, she told herself, she would do her best and not take offense if Amat-Mamu treated her harshly, as Abu had warned she might.
            “Ah, you’re here,” said Amat-Mamu hurriedly as she walked in. Amat-Mamu was shorter by a half a head than Iltani. She was a compact, plump little woman, with grey hair secured tightly in a knot.
            “Your first lesson will consist of watching me write an urgent letter,” she said taking clay out of the hamper and a few reed styluses. “Don’t just stand there,” she said beckoning Iltani, who was too perplexed to move. “And whatever you see, you must not, I repeat, you must not say a word or make a noise, even if you’re startled.”
            Iltani followed Amat-Mamu out of the house, fearful and disappointed. Where was her teacher taking her? She was walking so fast Iltani could hardly keep up. So they would not read or write anything today, it seemed.
            Amat-Mamu did not slow down or talk as they crossed the gagû. None of the houses looked familiar and Iltani was sure, that left alone here, she would have been terribly lost. They stopped at a small house. “Not a word,” Amat-Mamu put her finger to her lips as they entered the courtyard. The house was even smaller than her aunt’s, and badly in need of repair. In the courtyard stood an older nadītu, holding a clay pot over burning coal. “She is inside; she awaits you. I have given her a soothing remedy to drink, but the bruises and wounds . . . are very bad. She will need time and my best herbs to heal.”
            Iltani was frightened. What had happened? Apparently something very bad. But who would dare hurt a nadītu? They . . . we, she reminded herself, are under the protection of Šamaš and Aja. Anyone who tries to hurt us will incur the wrath of the gods.
            As they entered a small room, Iltani, following close behind, saw a woman sitting on a mattress. The woman’s eyes were red and swollen from crying. But what was worse, there were raw lash marks on her arms and legs. It looked as though she had been severely whipped. She was dressed in a thin white shift that revealed the bleeding gashes on her back. Iltani was so distressed by the sight she wanted to run away.
            “Tell me what happened,” Amat-Mamu said soothingly, no longer brusque.
            Eli-eresa, the young nadītu, spoke slowly.
            “I sewed a garment for a man named Sin-iddinam and delivered it to him. He promised he would pay me the following day, but when I went to collect what he owed me, he did not pay. A day passed, a week passed, still he did not pay. I sent three messengers and they all came back empty handed. When three months had gone by, I went to see him again, but he would only agree to pay me half the sum.
When I went to see him again, instead of paying me what he still owed me, he gave me a thrashing.”
            The room was so quiet Iltani was afraid they could hear her breathing.
            “And what is worse,” Eli-eresa continued, “he bragged that he beat five other nadītu. How could such a thing happen? How did we not know of this?” she asked in anguish. “Why did those nadītu not report it to the overseer, Rapaš-illi-Ea?”
            Iltani was so shaken she barely noticed that Amat-Mamu had had been taking down Eli-eresa’s story on a clay tablet.
            “Here, I have written a letter,” said Amat-Mamu.
“Not to the overseer but to a judge. I’ll deliver it to him myself if you like. Shall I read it to you?”
            Eli-eresa nodded.
            To my lord say; thus (says) Eli-eresa.
            I sold Sin-iddinam son of Ilšu-bani, a citizen of my city, Sippar, a garment. After he wore the garment for three months, he paid me a lower price, holding back half a shekel from the original price of the garment. I went to him, to remind him to give me the rest of the money, but instead he beat me viciously; as if I were not a servant of Šamaš. He has treated me in a way which is not acceptable in this land! The next day I went to him, and said: “Why have you treated me this way?”
            Thus he said: “I have beaten five nadītu of Šamaš, besides you. I will pay only those I wish to pay! No one takes anything from me.”
            My lord, you are my judge, pass a verdict on the case I have with Sin-iddinam.

            As they were leaving, Iltani noticed the older nadītu was smearing a brown ointment on Eli-eresa’s wounds. This woman looked familiar, yet Iltani could not remember from where.
            Amat-Mamu was silent all the way back and Iltani was too distraught to ask any questions. Just before reaching the house, Amat-Mamu turned to Iltani and asked: “What did you learn today that is worth remembering?”
            Iltani was speechless. What had she learned today that was worth remembering? Nothing about the art of the scribe. What she had learned was that all her notions about the life of a nadītu were perhaps the notions of a silly child, provided to her by her trusting Abu. That was her lesson for today.

            Amat-Mamu observed her, waiting for a response. As none came, she said: “A scribe should be seen and not heard. And our services are not limited to those who pay us to write down and witness their business contracts. As nadītu scribes we must help our friends. I know that you will never forget what you saw today and that will make you a better scribe. A scribe whose hand competes with his mouth is indeed a scribe. A scribe who writes without error and without asking the speaker to repeat himself need never sew garments for a living.” 

Amat-Mamu held Iltani’s gaze until Iltani looked down at her feet and said, “Yes, Mistress, I understand.”

Find the novel here: http://www.amazon.com/She-Wrote-Clay-Shirley-Graetz/dp/0989263126 

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