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The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity
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The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity

3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  175 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
Hailed for its searing emotional insights, and for the astonishing originality with which it weaves together personal history, cultural essay, and readings of classical texts by Sophocles, Ovid, Euripides, and Sappho, The Elusive Embrace is a profound exploration of the mysteries of identity.It is also a meditation in which the author uses his own divided life to investiga ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published June 20th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1999)
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Sep 14, 2012 K rated it it was ok
This book was published before The Lost, and I think it shows. The Riddle of Identity has a similar style (addressing different aspects of the issue through the lens of academic commentary) and it covers a lot of the same areas of Mendelsohn's family history, but in both senses, it feels less cohesive and less compelling.

The first explanation of the μεν, δε dilemma is something any student of Ancient Greek will appreciate, and his commentary on ancient texts is readable and accessible to all. H
Oct 25, 2007 Nathanial rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: shy switches
Shelves: biography, theory
Desire and the Riddle of Identity is the subtitle for this book.

How can we both desire love and still love to be the object of desire? "Identity, the Greeks knew, is a paradox," says Daniel Mendelsohn at the end of Geographies, the first chapter of The Elusive Embrace; the next four chapters - Multiplicities, Paternities, Mythologies, and Identities - elaborate this paradox, not to solve it, but to parse out the strands that make him who he is, follow them along their sources, and speculate to t
James Smith
Jan 03, 2016 James Smith rated it really liked it
Effortlessly masterful, Mendelsohn weaves his expertise as a classical scholar into his Jewish heritage to narrate his experience of "identity"--as a son, as a godfather, as a gay man "just outside" Chelsea. The result is a meditation on the nuances and messiness of "identity"--and hence the silliness of identity politics--that, quite apart from Mendelsohn's intentions, has a lot to teach religious communities in a secular age.
Jan 30, 2015 Rj rated it it was amazing
On my nightstand I have a collection of books that I am slowly wading through. As I order my nighttime reading from the local library it means that sometimes I have little to read and at others too much. I just finished reading Daniel Mendelson's The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1999). The book is a fascinating although often odd memoir about Mendelsohn's exploration of homosexual desire interwoven with classical myths that are part of his training as ...more
Mar 17, 2015 Rita rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorites of DM's books. Much is revealed about the personal odyssey of the writer in relation to desire, but the revelations never feel sensational or gratuitous. The memoirist has to ask hard questions about intimate truths and what one hides, not only from others, but from oneself. As Mendelsohn explores the secrets he kept, the avid scholar he became, the people who helped him become a fuller, richer self, the word "risk" kept coming to me. He risks much here, and in doing ...more
May 21, 2008 Ed rated it it was ok
not a good book from an otherwise astute critic.
Jan 15, 2009 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, gltbq
How does one resolve the mystery of his own identity? Can one understand the rest of the world if he does not know himself first? These questions and more form the themes of this rare if not unique memoir. Daniel Mendelsohn shares his own personal history through essays on the ways that he, and by reference we, defines himself. The geographies, paternities, mythologies and what he calls multiplicities lead him to a summary section that discusses identities. Concluding at the end of his musings t ...more
Miriam Jacobs
Jul 22, 2015 Miriam Jacobs rated it liked it
The Elusive Embrace is not Mendelsohn's strongest work, but that is as it should be, since he seems at the time of publication to be still finding his voice as a writer. I suspect the award garnering has more to do with the writer's frankness with regard to his subject than the merits of the writing. The speaker does not begin with a thesis he uses experience to prove, but, rather, explores experience - a perceived duality of nature and sense of specialness - to uncover a thesis - a genuine expl ...more
Apr 06, 2009 Chani rated it really liked it
This was Mendelsohn's literary debut and he was already a master in connecting personal stuff –in this case about his childhood and homosexuality, general reflections on desire and identity and a study on the classics. His memories are touching but not as powerful as the way he re-visits the past inThe Lost; his cruising New York streets in quest of "boys" he could play with isn't the most interesting side of the book though; his take on male desire, or rather on homosexual desire is insightful ...more
Janet Wolkoff
Oct 31, 2015 Janet Wolkoff rated it it was ok
I wish Daniel Mendelsohn hadn't published this book.
It was too personal and should have been kept private.
Oct 05, 2015 Kristen rated it really liked it
As a woman reader, I occasionally felt pretty alienated from Mendelsohn's discussion of the gay male experience, despite being queer myself. Still, the writing itself is quite beautiful and stunning, and the way he weaves together personal narrative with mythology and philosophy is really breathtaking.
Wayne Sutton
May 22, 2014 Wayne Sutton rated it liked it
Though this book has a lot of great content and philosophy, it is also oddly organized and tends to lag in places.
Oct 31, 2007 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
"This is the place where I decided to live, the place of paradox and hybrids. The place that, in the moment of choosing it, taught me that wherever I am is the wrong place for half of me."
Aug 16, 2007 Daniela rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: absolutely everyone
An absolutely stunning and highly surprising read. Part memoir, part study of the Classics, and mostly about being a gay American in the 21st century.
Oct 26, 2007 G rated it really liked it
Shelves: middle-ground
Daniel Mendelsohn has (or had) a lot of sex with anonymous men. Also, he likes the classics. Also, he writes well, intelligently but not super-pretentiously.
Troy Rutman
Oct 05, 2013 Troy Rutman rated it liked it
Quite beautifully woven. These are grand subjects i thought I'd outgrown: in fact, I've merely been crossing a mesa, and a gentle descent awaits.
Ayelet Waldman
Okay, he's my friend, but even if he weren't I would be blown away by the originality, the creativity, the verve of this book.
Oct 23, 2010 Elise rated it it was ok
I was hoping for more memoir about his family and less essay about his love- life. Disappointing after The Lost.
Oct 23, 2012 Katrinka rated it really liked it
A really beautiful book; a skillful weaving together of personal history and literature.
Droy Demoete
Apr 01, 2011 Droy Demoete rated it liked it
tremendously honest, a page turner
Mar 23, 2009 Carol rated it really liked it
Fascinating & sensitive.
Aug 04, 2011 Jacqui added it
Good book
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