William2's Reviews > An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic

An Odyssey by Daniel Mendelsohn
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really liked it
bookshelves: 21-ce, antiquity, autobiography, biography, cities, literary-criticism, nonfiction, poetry, us, war, travel

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 a 10-day tour on a small cruise ship of The Odyssey’s principle Mediterranean sites. So the book is a relaxed contemplation of the great book’s methods and devices, and insight into the present author’s relationship with his father, a research scientist who embraced his gay son from the first. The father is a bit of a curmudgeon, not overly so, but he can be hilariously opinionated. He’s a true believer in the value of hard work, especially academic achievement. He was a mathematician working for Grumman in the pre-computer era. I should have had such a father. The book reminds me very much of Philip Roth’s Patrimony. Mendelsohn like Roth is just another man chronicling the loss of a beloved father. The two approaches differ greatly but the core content, not so much. Moreover, the book is also a relatively painless way to learn more about the classics. A favorite aspect is when the professor cites critics of the epic from throughout the ages. I love the way he uses the Socratic method inherent in the seminar to do all his heavy lifting for him. He doesn’t need to pontificate. He and his students illuminate many of the epic’s gnarlier aspects quite well. The end, about the many deaths in The Odyssey and the Greek need for some form of marker or entombment, is matched with Jay Mendelsohn’s own stroke and slow fade in the hospital; it’s almost impossible to read without shuddering sobs. Alas, Jay Mendelsohn, we hardly knew ye.

One final note, Daniel Mendelsohn is also the translator of C. P. Cavafy’s Collected Poems, an absolutely intoxicating book.
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Reading Progress

March 6, 2019 – Shelved
March 6, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
March 6, 2019 – Shelved as: 21-ce
March 6, 2019 – Shelved as: antiquity
March 6, 2019 – Shelved as: autobiography
March 6, 2019 – Shelved as: biography
March 6, 2019 – Shelved as: cities
March 6, 2019 – Shelved as: literary-criticism
March 6, 2019 – Shelved as: nonfiction
March 6, 2019 – Shelved as: poetry
March 6, 2019 – Shelved as: war
March 6, 2019 – Shelved as: us
July 20, 2019 – Started Reading
July 20, 2019 – Shelved as: travel
July 20, 2019 –
page 69
22.85%
July 21, 2019 –
page 122
40.4%
July 22, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Greg (new) - added it

Greg I am revisiting some of the books I read during the first few months of college in a three course program on the canon. I am finishing The Iliad, listened to a Great Courses series of lectures on The Iliad and will be reading Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. The next little chunk of my golden oldies project will be about revisiting The Odyssey. That will be my motivation for picking Ulysses back up (I was enjoying it until I hit a super busy period, and just couldn’t continue). I have enjoyed Mendelsohn’s reviews and look forward to adding this to my little project.


William2 I hope you like it. Thanks for your enthusiasm!


message 3: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Your reviews always show me a better way to think and to understand what I read. Thank you.


William2 Gee, thanks Patrick. Nice of you to say.


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