Emma's Reviews > An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and an Epic

An Odyssey by Daniel Mendelsohn
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it was amazing
bookshelves: netgalley
Read 2 times. Last read November 24, 2017 to April 15, 2018.

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 of The Odyssey link to the author's recollections and musings about childhood, marriage, education, and death- all themselves important aspects of the poem's narrative. Everything is intensely intertwined, reflecting and building the connections between ancient and modern worlds. Even the very structure of the book harks back to the Homeric means of storytelling, the interweaving of past, present, and future to present a multilayered, episodic, and purposeful text that has life lessons at its heart.

At the end, there's significant self-reflection. Like both Odysseus and Telemachus in the poem, it is clear Daniel Mendelsohn learnt something through sharing this experience with his father and in writing this book about it. I certainly did- not only about the poem itself and the ways of reading it, but about the layered miscommunication that can persist within families. There may be a few small sections that only a classics student could love, the in-depth discussions of specific Greek etymology for example, but they are far outweighed by the larger, more universal issues addressed by Mendelsohn- that of personal identity and the ways (and extent to which) we can know another person, which underly both The Odyssey and his own potential to understand his father. It is incredibly well done- I defy anyone to leave it without an evaluative mindset towards their own familial relationships or a desire to immediately read or reread The Odyssey. Above all, Mendelsohn's passion for the text shines through this book and by the close, it is clear that it can still have a role to play in understanding human behaviour. For those new to it, and rereaders alike, I highly recommend the fresh and vibrant Emily Wilson translation.

ARC via Netgalley
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 24, 2017 – Started Reading
November 24, 2017 – Shelved
April 14, 2018 – Shelved as: netgalley
April 15, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Jaidee (new)

Jaidee Terrific review Emma...you got so much out of this one :)


Emma Jaidee wrote: "Terrific review Emma...you got so much out of this one :)"

Oh I really did. I was reading the Wilson translation of the Odyssey at the same time and it really informed my thoughts in such a positive way.


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