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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

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  248 ratings  ·  29 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 investigate th ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published June 20th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1999)
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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 ·  248 ratings  ·  29 reviews

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Mel Bossa
Very well written and unique in its perspective. I loved discovering Chelsea in NYC during the late 80s and early 90s through his astute eye and how he used geography, personal history, mythology (which he is obviously passionate about and fluent in latin and greek) and paternity to examine our dualities and the intersections of identity--gender, cultural, and sexual. But it was missing vulnerability.
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.
Sep 16, 2007 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 sp
Sep 10, 2012 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. His discussion
James Smith
Dec 31, 2015 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.
May 21, 2008 rated it it was ok
not a good book from an otherwise astute critic.
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Nearly twenty years after its original publication, this unique book continues to defy classification. Part memoir, part family history, part socio-cultural critique—The Elusive Embrace resonates as a late 20th-century/early 21st-century chronicle of the ambivalent lives that many gay men lead.

As a Classics scholar, Mendelsohn informs his observations of contemporary life with relevant analogues from Greek language and drama. Using the Greek construction of “men” and “de” (i.e., “On the one hand…but thcritique—The
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow. What a self-reflective read. Daniel Mendelsohn's words are poignant for every one at some or not, (because sex is only one part of the whole essence called You.). Mendelsohn words, rich with the poetry of Ovid, Euripides, and Sappho, are universal in scope. History of humanity repeats the stitching of timeline dots with the same sense for love something, and to be loved by someone; passion within both sides of the greener pastures. Growing.

"This is the place wher
Feb 08, 2018 rated it liked it
An enjoyable, insightful and enlightening memoir. The author's journalistic style seems to be a dogged pursuit of the truth - I think this works a little better when the object of investigation is his murdered relatives (The Lost) or his father (An Odyssey), than when it's himself.
Dec 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Jan 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jan 30, 2015 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
Miriam Jacobs
Nov 29, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: jewish
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 01, 2009 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 but it isninThe ...more
Mar 17, 2015 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
Aug 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: queer-lit
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.
Aug 04, 2011 added it
Good book
Michèle  Demoete
Apr 01, 2011 rated it liked it
tremendously honest, a page turner
Oct 31, 2007 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."
Wayne Sutton
Apr 21, 2014 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.
Aug 16, 2007 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 15, 2010 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.
Troy Rutman
Aug 19, 2012 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.
Oct 15, 2007 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.
Janet Wolkoff
Oct 31, 2015 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 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
A really beautiful book; a skillful weaving together of personal history and literature.
rated it it was ok
Aug 30, 2013
Erin Matthiessen
rated it really liked it
Oct 18, 2013
rated it really liked it
Oct 17, 2012
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