An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Part literary criticism, part biography, and part memoir, this book weaves together a touching and wonderful story. On the surface, it is a story of a father attending his son’s seminar on the Odyssey. Making use of the very ring structure that Mendelsohn is lecturing his students about, he presents his interpretation of the Odyssey and how to study it, explores his relationship with his father, and tells the story of his father’s life. This mirroring of the structure of Odyssey is tightly done: it is not forced. Mendelsohn doesn’t call attention to what he’s doing, but he’s not burying it either.
As college professor, I enjoyed the retelling of the classroom settings and the interactions of the students. As a lover of the classics, I appreciated the insight into the Odyssey. As a father and a son, I found the story deeply touching. My relationship with my father is not at all like his—but the deeper idea of coming to see your father as person and seeing him (or trying to at least) for real is true for all fathers and sons (and as Mendelsohn shows us, is part of the theme of the Odyssey).
Mendelson is courageously honest about the portrayal of himself. Although at times he comes off as a rather stereotypical haughty professor of classics, he doesn’t shy away from highlighting his own failures to connect to his father; the ways in which he missed opportunities to see his father. In this way, the book can be sad. And yet, for all these failures, there is a connection made; their relationship is transformed, and I think, father and son do come to know each other better.
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