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

Daniel Mendelsohn. Knopf, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-385-35059-4
Homeric heroes offer resonant psychological parallels to a modern family in this beguiling memoir. Mendelsohn (The Lost: A Search for Six of the Six Million) recounts a freshman class on the Odyssey that he taught at Bard College with his father, Jay, an 81-year-old computer scientist, sitting in; the two followed up with an Odyssey-themed Mediterranean cruise. The result is a small gem of seminar-room slapstick as the author struggles to impart a scholarly gloss to his students’ struggles with the text and his dad’s crotchety outbursts (Jay disparages the wily Odysseus as less than a “real” hero because “he’s a liar and he cheated on his wife” and because he gets his men killed, cries frequently, and is forever in need of rescue and makeovers by the gods). Gradually, Mendelsohn unwraps layers of timeless meaning in the ancient Greek poem: the muted battles seething inside the epic’s many troubled marriages (which parallel the battles waged by his own parents); the reunion of Odysseus with the grown son who doesn’t know him, their stilted unfamiliarity a template for the awkwardness lingering between the Mendelsohn father and son; and the longing to strike out for unknown parts coupled with the fear that holds men back. Mendelsohn weaves family history and trenchant literary analysis into a luminous whole. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/17/2017
Release date: 09/12/2017
Hardcover - 320 pages - 978-0-7710-5742-7
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