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An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  4,034 ratings  ·  778 reviews
When eighty-one-year-old Jay Mendelsohn decides to enroll in the undergraduate Odyssey seminar his son teaches at Bard College, the two find themselves on an adventure as profoundly emotional as it is intellectual. For Jay, a retired research scientist this return to the classroom is his "one last chance" to learn the great literature he'd neglected in his youth--and, even ...more
Hardcover, 302 pages
Published September 12th 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group (first published 2017)
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Paul Johnston agree with Judy. no prior knowledge needed, but highly likely you will want to read Homer's Odyssey after reading this book :-)…moreagree with Judy. no prior knowledge needed, but highly likely you will want to read Homer's Odyssey after reading this book :-)(less)
Seth Hi Jane, I don't think the book is overly esoteric. Mendelsohn gives us just enough background on the Odyssey (plot summary, major themes) to follow a…moreHi Jane, I don't think the book is overly esoteric. Mendelsohn gives us just enough background on the Odyssey (plot summary, major themes) to follow along, without diving into full-blown textual analysis.

Discussing the Odyssey also gives him the occasion to look back on his own life, and he shares plenty of stories about his experiences growing up on Long Island in the 1960s and 70s.

I suspect that André Aciman's Out of Egypt and Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking inspired Mendelsohn to write this. If you're a fan of those books (which I'd highly recommend to absolutely everyone), then you should definitely give this a look.(less)

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Stealth literary criticism. Part classics course, part father-son memoir, part travelogue. Doctor Mendelsohn’s is clearly the voice of a Professor of Classics. There’s no smoothly swirling Rothian prose here. The rigor of his voice may be explained as we learn more about his austere father who believed nothing worth doing should be easy. Might that include the writing or reading of this moving memoir? The father, Jay, takes his son’s Odyssey seminar at Bard College one spring. Then the two take ...more
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
I can't imagine that classics professor, Daniel Mendelsohn, imagined having his father join his class on Homer's Odyssey would have had quite the impact it did, on him, his students, or on those of us reading this memoir/lit crit.

Tackling and untangling the themes of the classic poem, especially the threads of father/son relations, within this unusual class set up allowed for an unconventional yet entirely apropos and moving exploration of his own family dynamic. Critical evaluations of books o
I saw an interview with Daniel Mendelsohn about his new book “An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and an Epic” and thought it sounded intriguing. This book is a memoir, but in many ways, it is three stories intertwined. The author provided a summary of “The Odyssey”, along with his account of the class he teaches at Bard College and the relationship with his father and how he and his father interacted with the students when his father decided to audit the class.

The book is well written but meanders a bi
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-star-books
An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic is an immensely satisfying and deeply moving memoir of a son’s search for his father.

The author, Daniel Mendelsohn, is a Classics Professor at Bard College in New York. In the Spring semester, 2011, Mendelsohn’s 81-year-old father (Jay, a retired research scientist and Mathematics professor) asked to audit his undergraduate semester on the Odyssey. Now, that struck me as a daunting proposition. For sixteen weeks, therefore, from January to May, Jay came
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn is a combination of literary criticism of Homer’s Odyssey, a family memoir, and a travelogue. This is a unique and fascinating combination that Mendelsohn skillfully weaves together by transitioning seamlessly from one genre to another.

The literary criticism occurs when Daniel Mendelsohn, a Classics professor, conducts a seminar on Homer’s Odyssey. He analyzes the text with his students, providing insights and interpretations that ill
Apr 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Well, now I'm ready for a reread of The Odyssey! Mendelsohn's book, which successfully combines the genres of family memoir and literary criticism, is wonderfully engaging. Mendelsohn, a writer and professor of Classics at Bard College in New York, uses the story of how his father sat in on his “Classics 125: The Odyssey of Homer” seminar as a launching point for exploring family relationships, particularly the bonds between fathers and sons, with all their mysteries and complexities, both in hi ...more
Tom Quinn
Jan 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the moving story of a man and his father, worlds apart in many ways and now trying to join spiritually in an understanding of one another. The writing is intelligent, descriptive, and insightful, very readable and often novel-like in its explorations of people, places, and events. Peppered all throughout are instructive explanations of The Odyssey - its themes, its structure, its importance in history and literature. Indeed, there are stirring exhortations to study the Classics not only ...more
“Like father Like Son”
A few months ago I read Philip Roth's Patrimony, an endearing diary report of his father's last year and a very refined exploration of the special bond that always exists between father and son. Mendelsohn's book is also autobiographical and, like Roth, it is a developmental novel: gradually the relationship of the son to the father developed, starting from the classic emotional trio of awe, fear and shame ending in wonder, downright admiration and respect. Like Roth, M
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not THE Odyssey, but rather AN Odyssey, wrapped around THE Odyssey because the protagonist, Professor Daniel Mendelsohn, teaches a seminar on THE... (oh, you get the idea) and his 80-something year old father sits in on the class to play irascible golden guy.

It's an odd pairing of lit crit on Homer mixed with memoir on another personal history with yet another tough dad (their numbers are legion). If you're thinking of reading or re-reading The Odyssey, or just recently read it, sitting in on Me
Lyn Elliott
I read this five months ago as part of my preparation for an exciting group read of Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey.
As so often happens with books I deeply appreciate, I mean to re-read, take detailed notes and then write a considered review. And then, as also often happens, my reading and my life move on and I don’t get back to the book that gave me so much.
When I finished Mendelssohn, I promised myself and GR that I would write a thoughtful, referenced review, and began the notin
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa
What is this book? The author is a classical philologist, so I expected to gain a better understanding of the Odyssey from it. It actually happened, but not the direct way. This book is an epitaph or “sêma”, how Homer would call it, for Daniel Mendelsohn’s father Jay. There are three main stages of action, the Odyssey itself, Dan’s lectures about the Odyssey to his students and his father as a guest, and a voyage following Odysseus’ route, which Dan and Jay booked after the lecture. Between and ...more
Mar 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, 2018
I simply loved this book, and Bronson Pinchot's narration was gentle and perfect. I am a former literature major who woke up to the joys of scholarship while studying the Odyssey in freshman seminar, I am going to Greece for the first time this summer with my late-70s parents, and like Mendelsohn, my relationship with my father has been very close, but not always very easy, so perhaps I was perfectly primed for this book. And indeed, I found the interweaving of memoir and literary exegesis entra ...more
In the spring term of 2011, 81-year-old Jay Mendelsohn, a retired mathematician, sat in on his son’s Bard College undergraduate seminar on Homer’s Odyssey. They subsequently went on a “Retracing the Odyssey” cruise together. Again and again, epics like the Odyssey lend not just their structure but also their themes to Mendelsohn’s family story. Notions of heroism and masculinity are interrogated throughout. I suspect this will appeal more to classics buffs than to general readers. However, the q ...more
Detached. Inflexible. That's how Daniel Mendelsohn has always characterized his now 82 year-old father, Jay. To the author's surprise, others recall Jay's warmth, charm and wit. When Jay sits in on Daniel's undergraduate seminar on The Odyssey the complicated relationship between fathers and sons emerges both in Daniel's own life and as an underlying theme of the Homeric epic.

Just there to listen, Jay assures his son. Yet, on day one, he is the vocal contrarian: Odysseus is not a hero. A hero do
Gretchen Rubin
A profound, complex memoir about a son, a father, and reading The Odyssey together. Beautifully structured. Sometimes, as here, an entire book is written to get the reader to a place where the true meaning of the final page can hit with proper force. Masterfully done.
Oct 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
This wonderful revisit of Homer's The Odyssey is all the more enjoyable due to the author's poignant interweaving of recollections of his relationship with his emotionally distant father. Daniel Mendelsohn, a Classics professor at Bard College, learns much about his father when the senior Mendelsohn sits in on his son's freshman course on The Odyssey. Just as Telemachus learns much about his father through narratives told by those he meets on his journey, Mendelsohn learns much about his father ...more
Mendelsohn has been passionate about the classics, so much so that it is he teaches it at Bard College. One year his eighty-one-year-old father, Jay, decides that he will sign up and join the young people learning about this epic tale for the first time. Jay is a retired research scientist who was a maths expert but realises that this is his one last chance to discover about the great literature of the world, something that he didn’t do when he was being educated. So, begins an emotional adventu ...more
Robert Case
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mythology, memoir
I listened to "An Odyssey" while journeying home from a family holiday gathering. It was the ideal companion to my own 2-day road trip. On its face the book presents a detailed review of the archetypal hero's journey, told from the perspective of an aging Classics professor conducting a seminar with a classroom of aging teens, and his octogenarian father. The subject is Odysseus' epic return to his island kingdom and to three generations of family at the end of the Trojan War. These distinct bio ...more
Suzanne Arcand
Apr 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
What a fantastic book! What an original idea!

The author taught an undergraduate seminar on the Odyssey and his Father aged eighty-one asked to sit on it. This story chronicles both the workshop, a trip based on the Odyssey that Daniel Mendelsohn took with his dad, and the relationship between father and son. The outcome is an immensely satisfying book that is intellectually and emotionally stimulating and beautifully written. He uses long sentences when he talks about the voyage and the Odyssey
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As the subtitle suggests, this book is firstly about a particular father and son, Daniel Mendelsohn himself, and his 81-year-old ‘Daddy’, Jay. But it’s also about other father/son relationships including the fathers and sons at the heart of the Odyssey. That extraordinary book has survived at least two and a half millennia, and continues to speak strongly into people’s lives.
Odysseus – whom Jay doesn’t consider a ‘hero’ - is both a son and a father: son to Laertes, and father of Telemachus, the
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I discovered this book through a review in the NYTimes. The excerpts quoted were hysterical and I loved the idea that the author's 81-year-old father would audit his son's seminar on the Odyssey. I could just imagine the situations and tensions that would produce. I thought it would turn out to be an amusing memoir and a nice way to spend several hours. I had no idea just how wonderful this story would turn out to be.

Daniel Mendelsohn is a Classics professor, essayist, and critic. At 81, his fat
Oct 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Daniel Mendelsohn has written some excellent critical essays over the years, covering everything from the true significance of Brokeback Mountain to the cheap nostalgia of Mad Men. In An Odyssey, he tries his hand at family memoir, describing the semester when his father, an 81-year-old retired mathematician, joins a seminar he's teaching on Homer's epic.

In one sense, the book unfolds in real time, with Mendelsohn taking us through each book of the Odyssey and describing his students' and his fa
I really enjoyed Daniel Mendelsohn's memoir. Mendelsohn teaches the classics at Bard college, including a seminar on Homer's The Odyssey for freshman. His father, who fancies that he was the person who inspired Daniel's interest in and love of the classics, asks one day out of the blue if he could audit the freshman Odyssey seminar. "I'll just sit in the back and won't say a word.", he promises. Right?!! I loved how the author mines the Odyssey to share things about his family, himself, his rela ...more
Marcus Hobson
Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Be entertained and be educated. This book is a delight, not just for the stories that it tells but also for the things that it teaches you.

Daniel Mendelsohn is a classical scholar and a most entertaining writer. In this book he describes teaching a student course on Homer's Odyssey which his eighty-one year old father attends. His father, Jay, is not a fan of Odysseus. He thinks that he cries too much, sleeps with too many women and gets too much help from the gods. Father and son have much to l
My favorite literary reviewer , that is Berger and john Leonard are dead and James wood is too cold blooded , so Mendelsohn it is.
This memoir of author and his old father in their last times together, Daniel teaching class on odyssey, dad taking class, then dad and son going on an educational odyssey cruise, then dad suddenly dying. And the overarching story of homer and what it means to be a human and how we tells ourselves we are so.
Mendelsohn is a university lecturer and when his father began attending his classes, he took the opportunity to use Homer's work to reconnect with him. The author is an academic and this clearly shows in his writing. It's a little dry at times and I found I was more interested in his dissection of Homer than his stories of his father. ...more
Jul 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: english
An exceptional book that mixes a personal story with a study of the Odyssey. Perfect.
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Mendelsohn's memoir is both academically and emotionally satisfying I literally could not put it down.
Not sure you'll love it as much as I did, but it's worth trying.
If you haven't read The Odyssey yet, you'll 100% want to after reading this. And if you did read it, you'll want to read it again because there are just SO many things to digest.
Jon Stout
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: progenitors and progeny
As a Classics professor, Daniel Mendelsohn taught a course on Homer’s Odyssey, and he invited his aging father to sit in on the course.  In his book, he took the opportunity to examine his own relationship with his father at the same time as he was discussing his students’ reaction to the epic poem.  I was struck by this because I too, years ago, had taught the Odyssey as part of a Literature of Western Civilization course, and I too had a special place in my heart for the father-and-son reunion ...more
Jan 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book in dedication to a dear friend who was a part of a private GR group that we are both a part of. Sadly, she passed away in October of 2020. Our group decided to read books from her favorite shelf in her honor. I chose this book because it was a much more in-depth book than she expected it would be with a wonderful message about a father/son bond, and coping with aging. She was spot on.

The author, classics professor Daniel Mendelsohn tells the story of a time when his 81-year old
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