Sunday, September 3, 2017

An Odyssey

An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn
Penguin Random House: 9/12/17
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385350594

An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn is a very highly recommended memoir of a father, son, and The Odyssey.

Jay Mendelsohn, a retired research scientist, decided to take the undergraduate  seminar on Homer's Odyssey that his son Daniel teaches at Bard College. It was Jay's hope that this would enable him to understand the classic epic, as well as why his son has devoted his life's work to the classics. What follows is not only insights into Odysseus and the epic poem, but also the relationship between father and son.

The two study together in Daniel's class where Jay challenges his son's interpretations. He questions why Odysseus is even considered a hero, after all, Odysseus is a liar, cheats on his wife, often cries, gets his men killed, and often needs the gods to intervene and rescue him. Teaching his seminar with his father questioning him actually encourages Daniel to justify his interpretations of the text as he teaches it. Additionally, Jay and Daniel  take an educational Mediterranean cruise together that attempts to re-create the journey of Odysseus.

This is an exquisitely written memoir. It is an insightful, extraordinary, emotional examination of The Odyssey and the relationship between father and son. Daniels uses the epic to highlight lessons he is learning in real life with his father. Their studies and trip uncover secrets that allow Daniel to understand Jay and their relationship. So while this is a memoir and a study of The Odyssey, it also represents other father-son relationships and the journeys life has taken them through. Daniel blends literary analysis with personal family history and creates a powerful work that is an enduring tribute to both Jay Mendelsohn and The Odyssey.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

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