An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and an Epic

 
9780007545131: An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and an Epic

LONGLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE 2017

From the award-winning, best-selling writer: a deeply moving tale of a father and son’s transformative journey in reading – and reliving – Homer’s epic masterpiece.

When eighty-one-year-old Jay Mendelsohn decides to enrol in the undergraduate seminar on the Odyssey that his son Daniel teaches at Bard College, the two find themselves on an adventure as profoundly emotional as it is intellectual. For Jay, a retired research scientist who sees the world through a mathematician’s unforgiving eyes, this return to the classroom is his ‘one last chance’ to learn the great literature he’d neglected in his youth – and, even more, a final opportunity to understand his son.

But through the sometimes uncomfortable months that follow, as the two men explore Homer’s great work together – first in the classroom, where Jay persistently challenges his son’s interpretations, and then during a surprise-filled Mediterranean journey retracing Odysseus’ legendary voyages – it becomes clear that Daniel has much to learn, too. For Jay’s responses to both the text and the travels gradually uncover long-buried secrets that allow the Daniel to understand his difficult father at last. As this intricately woven memoir builds to its wrenching climax, Mendelsohn’s narrative comes to echo the Odyssey itself, with its timeless themes of deception and recognition, marriage and children, the pleasures of travel and the meaning of home.

Rich with literary and emotional insight, An Odyssey is a renowned writer’s most revelatory entwining yet of personal narrative and literary exploration.

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Review:

‘A brilliant family memoir ... At its core, it is a funny, loving portrait of a difficult but loving parent: ... An Odyssey is a stellar contribution to the genre of memoirs about reading – literary analysis and the personal stories are woven together in a way that feels both artful and natural. A thoughtful book from which non-classicists will learn a great deal about Homer ... A funny, loving portrait of a difficult but loving parent: a “much-turning man”’ Emily Wilson, Guardian

‘This many-layered memoir is a remarkably warm and intimate book, one that brings an ancient wonder into modern life and creates heroes on a less than epic scale ...Mendelsohn not only conveying his knowledge about the epic, but about those little things, too, those details that make a person who they are. In every way it’s an education’ Sunday Times

‘There are a handful of books that have captured the pleasure and romance of this subject. Donna Tartt’s was one ... this is another. Homer has a phrase for those who can speak bewitchingly: they have ‘winged words’. Mendelsohn has winged words’ The Times

‘The book enacts a truth that has long been central to Mendelsohn’s writing and teaching, which is that the great works of antiquity remain relevant today. His prose flits seamlessly across intervals and registers, switching from erudite exposition one minute to emotion-filled reminiscence the next. An accomplished, brave book that testifies to what is perhaps The Odyssey’s most abiding message: that intelligence has little value if it isn’t allied to love’ Observer

‘An exquisitely written book about fathers and sons, life and grief’ Mail on Sunday

‘What catches you off guard about this memoir is how moving it is. If you have not read the Odyssey this is a rich introduction. Mendelsohn makes Homer’s epic shine in your mind’ New York Times

‘Sharply intelligent ... A well-told story that underscores the power of storytelling’ Kirkus

About the Author:

Daniel Mendelsohn is a prize-winning writer and critic. His books include the international best seller The Lost, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and many others; a memoir, The Elusive Embrace, a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year; a translation, with commentary, of the complete poems of C. P. Cavafy, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year; and two collections of essays. He lives in the Hudson Valley of New York.

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