Jill Meyer's Reviews > An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic

An Odyssey by Daniel Mendelsohn
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it was amazing

Daniel Mendelsohn, a Classics professor at Bard College, has written "An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic", a book, a memoir, almost a dissertation on what seem to be two of his favorite subjects, family and classical literature. An earlier book, "The Lost: The Search for Six of the Six Million", covered the same subjects, but with a different orientation.

Mendelsohn writes about a year in which he both taught a class at Bard College on "The Odyssey" and took a Greek island cruise which traces Odysseus's 20 year journey. Although his seminar at Bard was for college students, he asked his early 80's father, Jay, to attend the seminar and to take the cruise with him. Daniel had been at odds with his father for years; Jay was famously a brilliant and taciturn man, married to his wife for over 60 years and was the father of five children. Daniel had long tried to understand his father and felt that Jay, with a long interest in the classics and Greek, might benefit from studying that father-son (and grandfather) epic, "The Odyssey" together.

Many people have written memoirs about their parents. Most never quite make that final leap to understanding their father's actions, their mother's thoughts. As children we might know what our parents have done, but we usually don't know what they feel. Daniel Mendelsohn intersperses what happened in the family's past with passages from "The Odyssey". How Odysseus felt after not seeing his home, his wife, his father, and his son for twenty years can't exactly be paired with a man's life two thousand years later, but just the working through the passages of the epic with his father helped bring the two closer and helps Daniel understand - a bit - about his father.

I am not a classicist. I've never read any of the epic poems Daniel Mendelsohn writes about in "An Odyssey". I enjoyed his previous book, "The Six" better, but then I am an armchair historian and have read a lot about the Holocaust. So, I was a bit in uncharted waters when I began reading "An Odyssey". But I had enjoyed Mendelsohn's references to classical studies in "The Six" - yes, he managed to combine personal history and the classics in that book, as well - and so I looked forward to reading his new book. I'd say I understood most of it but thoroughly enjoyed it.
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Finished Reading
September 16, 2017 – Shelved

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