An Odyssey A Father a Son and an Epic (Read)
I saw an interview with Daniel Mendelsohn about his new book An Odyssey A Father A Son and an Epic and thought it sounded intriguing This book is a memoir but in many ways it is three stories intertwined The author provided a summary of The Odyssey along with his account of the class he teaches at Bard College and the relationship with his father and how he and his father interacted with the students when his father decided to audit the classThe book is well written but meanders a bit Jay Mendelsohn is a retired research scientist and mathematician At age 82 he decided to monitor his son s class about The Odyssey He challenged his son throughout the class At the end of course Daniel takes Jay on an Odyssey cruise on the Mediterranean I found the interaction between Daniel Jay and the class most interesting Overall this is a most delightful book If ou are looking for a good summer read this might be our choiceI read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible The book is ten hours and thirty seven minutes Bronson Pinchot does a good job narrating the book Pinchot is an actor and an Audie Award winning narrator This is my first experience with the author and narrator Well now I m ready for a reread of The Odyssey Mendelsohn s book which successfully combines the genres of family memoir and literary criticism is wonderfully engaging Mendelsohn a writer and professor of Classics at Bard College in New York uses the story of how his father sat in on his Classics 125 The Odyssey of Homer seminar as a launching point for exploring family relationships particularly the bonds between fathers and sons with all I read this five months ago as part of my preparation for an exciting group read of Emily Wilson s new translation of The OdysseyAs so often happens with books I deeply appreciate I mean to re read take detailed notes and then write a considered review And then as also often happens my reading and my life move on and I don t get back to the book that gave me so muchWhen I finished Mendelssohn I promised myself and GR that I would write a thoughtful referenced review and began the noting process But now it s mid June and I ve decided to just write what has stayed with me since the beginning of the earI had not previously thought about the relationships between fathers and sons as a main theme in The Odyssey but once it was pointed out it is very clearly a plot driver Mendelssohn cleverly interwove stories of his relationship with his own father with his ongoing class discussions of Odysseus and Telemachus and was often very funny in describing their differences both in Daniel s classes and outside them The weekly classroom discussions of the poem could have been clunky but instead threw up opportunities to explore different interpretations of the text coming from widely divergent viewpoints Where there were points of difference over the meaning of individual words or phrases Mendelssohn gives us his own translationsThe structure is similar to The Odyssey as the different narratives intertwine circling each other shifting time framesIt s written in an easily accessible style a major achievement for a work based in such deep scholarship I can t imagine that classics professor Daniel Mendelsohn imagined having his father join his class on Homer s Odyssey would have had uite the impact it did on him his students or on those of us reading this memoirlit crit Tackling and untangling the themes of the classic poem especially the threads of fatherson relations within this unusual class set up allowed for an unconventional et entirely apropos and moving exploration of his own family dynamic Critical evaluations of books of The Odyssey link to the author s recollections and musings about childhood marriage education and death all themselves important aspects of the poem s narrative Everything is intensely intertwined reflecting and building the connections between ancient and modern worlds Even the very structure of The Book Harks Back To book harks back to Homeric means of storytelling the interweaving of past present and future to present a multilayered episodic and purposeful text that has life lessons at its heart At the end there s significant self reflection Like both Odysseus and Telemachus in the poem it is clear Daniel Mendelsohn learnt something through sharing this experience with his father and in writing this book about it I certainly did not only about the poem itself and the ways of reading it but about the layered miscommunication that can persist within families There may be a few small sections that only a classics student could love the in depth discussions of specific Greek etymology for example but they are far outweighed by the larger universal issues addressed by Mendelsohn that of personal identity and the ways and extent to which we addressed by Mendelsohn that of personal identity and the ways and extent to which we know another person which underly both The Odyssey and his own potential to understand his father It is incredibly well done I defy anyone to leave it without an evaluative mindset towards their own familial relationships or a desire to immediately read or reread The Odyssey Above all Mendelsohn s passion for the text shines through this book and by the close it is clear that it can still have a role to play in understanding human behaviour For those new to it and rereaders alike I highly recommend the "fresh and vibrant Emily Wilson translationARC via Netgalley An Odyssey A Father "and vibrant Emily Wilson translationARC via Netgalley An Odyssey A Father Son and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn is a combination of literary criticism of Homer s Odyssey a family memoir and a travelogue This is a uniue and fascinating combination that Mendelsohn skillfully weaves together by transitioning seamlessly from one genre to anotherThe literary criticism occurs when Daniel Mendelsohn a Classics professor conducts a seminar on Homer s Odyssey He analyzes the text with his students providing insights and interpretations that illuminate the text in rewarding ways The family memoir occurs when Mendelsohn s octogenarian father sits in on his seminar and contributes to the discussion and analysis As a result of his father s reactions to the Odyssey Mendelsohn interrogates his own relationship with his father one that had been fraught with tension misunderstandings and lack of communication during his formative ears The travelogue occurs when father and son go on a literary cruise that re traces Odysseus return from TroyMendelsohn describes the structure of Homer s Odyssey as a ring composition in which elaborate circlings in space and time are mirrored and where the narrator will start to tell a story only to pause and loop back to some earlier moment that helps to explain an aspect of the story he s telling a bit of personal or family history say and afterward might even loop back to some earlier moment thereafter gradually winding his way back to the present the moment in the narrative that he left in order to provide all this background Mendelso. When eighty one ear old Jay Mendelsohn decides to enroll in the undergraduate Odyssey seminar his son teaches at Bard College the two find themselves on an adventure as profoundly emotional as it is intellectual For Jay a retired research scientist this return to the classroom is his one last chance to. Hn replicates this same ring structure in his work looping backward and forward in time weaving interpretations highlighting details and drawing connections within the poem translating words from the Greek providing their definitions connotations and context and applying all of the above to significant events from his life that shed light on his relationship with his father One of the most intriguing aspects of his discussion of the poem is the manner in which he interrogates Odysseus relationship with his son and his father applying both to fatherson relationships in general and to his relationship with his father in specific This is as much an odyssey of Mendelsohn s personal discovery of his father s personality and behaviors as it is anything elseWhat emerges from this work is a sensitive portrayal of Mendelsohn s father a fascinating critiue of Homer s Odyssey with profound insights on the poem and a travelogue describing the locations father and son visit as they pursue their own transformative odysseyA fascinating and compelling work Highly recommended for anyone with a pulse Not THE Odyssey but rather AN Odyssey wrapped around THE Odyssey because the protagonist Professor Daniel Mendelsohn teaches a seminar on THE oh ou get the idea and his 80 something ear old father sits in on the class to play irascible golden guyIt s an odd pairing of lit crit on Homer mixed with memoir on another personal history with et another tough dad their numbers are legion If ou re thinking of reading or re reading The Odyssey or just recently read it sitting in on Mendelsohn s Bard College class will only serve to make the experience richer The book provides lots of insights on the inner workings allusions and symbolism in the epicAt the same time in back and forth fashion before finally blending with Dad in the classroom we get the story of a father and a son TWO fathers and sones Odysseus and Telemachus plus Jay Mendelsohn and Dan THREE fathers and sons if ou want to throw in Laertes and Odysseus etc Jay Mendelsohn is Old School as fathers tend to be and his son is not The gentle friction between the two lends the book its forward momentum Father Jay cares little for Odysseus the Man but that s because the Big O gets too much help from Athena and cheats on his wife while taking 10 ears to get home from the Trojan War Not up to standards this Odysseus fellow And Daniel thinks neither am I Or is he That s what we get here Overall high marks though I can t say I was wild about the blow by blow rendering of the classroom Mendelsohn is Old School in his way too He s one of these professors who asks uestions with the answer already in mind for the most part and when he doesn t get what he wants he keeps asking in different ways until he doesNevertheless I enjoyed the Classical insights because I m getting to be Classical Era myself 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 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 achievement He was a mathematician working for Grumman in the pre computer era I should have 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 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 uite 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 eOne final note Daniel Mendelsohn is also the translator of C P Cavafy s Collected Poems an absolutely intoxicating book An Odyssey A Father a Son and an Epic is an immensely satisfying and deeply moving memoir of a son s search for his father The author Daniel Mendelsohn is a Classics Professor at Bard College in New York In the Spring semester 2011 Mendelsohn s 81 ear old father Jay a retired research scientist and Mathematics professor asked to audit his undergraduate semester "On The Odyssey Now That Struck Me As A Daunting "the Odyssey Now that struck me as a daunting For sixteen weeks therefore from January to May Jay came to class and participated in discussion with a bunch of undergraduatesJay said he was not going to talk in class but in the very first class he challenged the view that Odysseus was a hero Odysseus was not a real hero because he s a liar and he cheated on his wife He also lost all his men and all twelve ship What kind of leader loses all his men You call that a hero Oh this was Fun For Me To for me to but a nightmare for Mendelsohn His reaction however was priceless Yep I said a little defiantly I felt like I was eleven ears old again and Odysseus was a naughty schoolmate whom I d decided I was going to stand by even if it meant being punished along with him I remembered little of the Odyssey What I remembered better was the poem Ulysses by Alfred Tennyson which I loved It offered a glimpse of Odysseus life after he returned home to Ithaca I trooped along with Jay to class and relished this opportunity to be taught by a Classics scholar extraordinaire Book by book Mendelsohn had his students and me enthralled with Homer s literary magic I appreciated his systematic approach to the epic poem beginning with an exposition on the etymology of words voyage vacation travel The Odyssey I learned is a nostos narrative nostos means Homecoming It is combined with another Greek word algos which means pain Hence the pain associated with longing for home is nostalgia Mendelsohn also introduced the ring composition a narrative techniue in Greek literature that wove the present and the past together which mirrored the elaborate circling in spa. Learn the great literature he'd neglected in his outh and even a final opportunity to fully understand his son a writer and classicist But through the sometimes uncomfortable months that the two men explore Homer's great work together first in the classroom where Jay persistently challenges his son's in. Ce and time in the Odyssey He drew attention to the long six beat oom pah pah meter also known as the dactylic hexameter in Homer s twelve thousand one hundred and ten lines If the reader did not mind some deviation from the memoir it was all extremely fascinating and rewarding Mendelssohn provided an absolutely gorgeous analysis of the Odyssey a phenomenal literary criticism It was a veritable treat to sit in this seminarLike all good teachers do Mendelsohn asked searching uestions that directed attention to the themes in Homer s poem Do heroes cry What might a heroism of survival look like What makes a good marriage Why did Odysseus choose mortal Penelope and not the goddess Calypso How does one recognize someone after one can no longer rely on physical appearance When the exterior the face and body have changed beyond recognition what remains Is there an inner I that survives time What is the difference between who we are and what others know about us These uestions generated lively discussion in class It was fascinating watching the oung undergraduates sparring with an elderly man who could have been their grandfather and even fascinating to observe the mutual respect and admiration that developed between them In essence the Odyssey is a homecoming story of a child going in search of an absent father and starting to learn about him and the world It is a homecoming story It is the story of Telemachus education This memoir is the story of Mendelsohn s education Like Telemachus Mendelsohn came to know who his father really was From childhood until his mid twenties Mendelsohn only knew his father to be a hard man for whom the value of a pursuit resided in the amount of painful exertion it demanded Mendelsohn admitted I felt that if I devoted myself to a career whose training was painful my father might approve of it I thought it wonderful that at the end of this seminar Mendelsohn and his father went on a Mediterranean cruise Retracing the Odyssey On the cruise Mendelsohn had many opportunities to get acuainted with the softer side of his father At cocktail hour Jay sang and charmed the crew on board ship There were tender moments of revelation that were heartwarming On one occasion Mendelsohn reflected I suddenly realized this was who he was a lovely old man filled with charming tales about the thirties and forties the era to which the music tinkling out of the piano belonged an era of cleverness and confidence and sass It was as if he were the Great American Songbook A spasm of emotion courses through me something primitive childish This father son odyssey was particularly poignant as unbeknownst to them it was their last educational journey togetherI will close with Mendelsohn s uote on teaching which he exemplified in his seminar class It was from Fred that I understood that beauty and pleasure are at the center of teaching For the best teacher is the one who wants International Organizations you to find meaning in the things that have given him pleasure too so that the appreciation of their beauty will outlive him In this way because it arises from an acceptance of the inevitability of death good teaching is like good parenting I recognize that a book like this is not for everyone However ifou enjoy the classics then this may just be Laurus your cup of tea Mendelsohn said of the Odyssey that it is scathingly brilliant I can confidently say this of his memoir too Thankou Professor Mendelsohn Like father Like Son A few months ago I read Philip Roth s Patrimony an endearing diary report of his father s last ear and a very refined exploration of the special bond that always exists "Between Father And Son Mendelsohn "father and son Mendelsohn book is also autobiographical and like Roth it is a developmental novel gradually the relationship of the son to the father developed starting from the classic emotional trio of awe fear and shame ending in wonder downright admiration and respect Like Roth Mendelsohn discovers all sorts of unsuspected aspects in his father s personality without ever fully comprehending aspects in his father s personality without ever fully comprehending a son can never fully understand his father because the father has gone before him the father has always lived so much than the son so that the son can never catch up never know everything The special thing about Mendelsohn s book is that he takes the ancient Greek epic of the Odyssey as a guide That is not surprising when ou know that Mendelsohn is a teacher of ancient literature in real life And also that the Odyssey is not only the story of a man Odysseus and his wife Penelope but also of that man and his son Telemachos The nice thing is that at the age of 81 his father suddenly came to attend his son s lessons on the Odyssey at the university and unabashedly commented to the delight of the students Unfortunately it would also be the last ear his father come to live just like Roth sIn the book Mendelsohn follows the structure of the Odyssey and constantly alternates between a rather technical but very interesting discussion of the story itself his treatment of this in the seminars with his students his discussions with his father about the story and their shared experiences during a cruise on the Mediterranean Sea in the trail of Odysseus Thus an alternation of seriousness and fancy which really works well And the most interesting thing is that ou regularly see Daniel Mendelsohn surprised every time he gets to know a new aspect of his father and relates it to the ancient Greek story It s a beautiful interaction and a remarkable variation on the classic theme of the Bildungsroman In other words Mendelsohn cleverly managed to write an interesting and endearing novel about a father son relationship or rather the other way round but at the same time it offers a great illustration of the power of classical literature Magnificent 35 stars I simply loved this book and Bronson Pinchot s narration was gentle and perfect I am a former literature major who woke up to the joys of scholarship while studying the Odyssey in freshman seminar I am going to Greece for the first time this summer with my late 70s parents and like Mendelsohn my relationship with my father has been very close but not always very easy so perhaps I was perfectly primed for this book And indeed I found the interweaving of memoir and literary exegesis entrancing and I wanted neither the Odyssey nor Mendelsohn s text to end But I don t think Rumunia. Koniec złotej epoki you have to have a family trip to Greece on the horizon to have that connection to this Odyssey The book is about the circle and cycle of life about journeys and endings and the sense of melancholy love and loss is strong And the construction is nearly seamlessSo noou don t have to be a classics scholar just have parents I think to connect to this story The Mendelsohns Daniel and Jay will be much in my mind when I finally make it to Greece this summer And I have been inspired to re read the Odyssey in the exciting new translation as well. Terpretations and then during a surprise filled Mediterranean journey retracing Odysseus's famous voyages it becomes clear that Daniel has much to learn too Jay's responses to both the text and the travels gradually uncover long buried secrets that allow the son to understand his difficult father at last.