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

Review by K.P. Ambroziak

There’s an intelligent and exquisite beauty to Daniel Mendelsohn’s writing. He’s clearly an educator, a deep thinker, a keen critic, and a writer in tune with an effective mode of conversation. I was taken with AN ODYSSEY from the start—once I had gotten used to his writing style, which emulates ring composition with miniature strokes that are amusing as the read goes on.

I was moved to tears by the end of the work, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. It’s part memoir, part self-exploration, part lesson in all things Homer (if you’ve never read Homer, what the *heck* are you waiting for?), but its strength lies with the gentle hand he uses to show how similar we are to the ancients. If you appreciate Homer’s “Odyssey,” you will certainly enjoy this read, and I’d wager take away a trove of antique treasures.

I’ve taught the epic to college students, and found many parallels to my own journey. It requires a certain amount of stamina and patience to lead students to discover the epic’s textual tapestry on their own. Despite how well one may know a text, there are always new things to uncover. Teaching a text seems to teach us this if anything.

But there’s so much to be learned here from Mendelsohn’s curated brilliance. He teaches us about recognition, and the patterns in our own relationships, the ways we do not see those in front of us, the ways others see them better, if less honestly. We are strangers to those who know us best—or should know us best. And yet recognition may come in the most simplest of moments, when memory and forgetfulness collide. We take people for granted. We think we know and yet we are strangers on a ship, passing each other in the ink of our cosmos. How does a son not know his father? How does a father not know his son? Are we tricked by the gods, disguised in plain sight for some higher purpose, some bigger plan? These are notions we grapple with in the epic, but also in our very un-heroic and un-epic daily lives. To live estranged seems far more reasonable than to share the deepest parts of ourselves. Continue reading