Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate

Daniel Mendelsohn. Univ. of Virginia, $19.95 (112p) ISBN 978-0-8139-4466-1
Bringing together memoir, history, and literary analysis, critic Mendelsohn (An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic) delivers a fine study of digression, exile, and circularity. Mendelsohn approaches his themes primarily through the lens of Homer’s The Odyssey, in terms of its story line of a long-delayed arrival home, and of Homer’s narrative technique of “ring composition,” in which flashbacks and digressions are layered “in the manner of Chinese boxes or Russian dolls.” He explains how this technique led him to a breakthrough with his previous book, and illustrates the technique here with digressions into the lives and work of other authors. These include German scholar Erich Auerbach, who wrote his masterpiece of literary analysis, Mimesis, which includes a chapter on ring composition, while fleeing Nazism; and 17th-century author François Fénelon, whose Odyssey adaptation The Adventures of Telemachus won him fame but also, thanks to its veiled criticisms of King Louis XIV, the loss of his post as royal tutor at Versailles. Mendelsohn’s talent with descriptive detail brings his work alive, such as repeated descriptions of Auerbach, while exiled in Istanbul, gazing through a palace window over the turquoise Sea of Marmara. Mendelsohn never fails to entertain as he takes the reader across thousands of years’ worth of literature and lives. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 05/05/2020
Release date: 09/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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