The Millions

Three Odysseys

Odysseys come in all shapes and forms, from epic to personal.  Three recent odysseys range in time and theme from ancient to dystopian.  Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey launches from Homer’s epic, 2017 National Book Award-winner Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing road trips to the Mississippi State Penitentiary, and Jesús Carrasco’s Out in the Open follows a young boy’s harrowing escape from abuse across an unnamed landscape.  No matter their geography, these books share exceptional writing, mining vast expanses of the human experience.

Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey is, unsurprisingly, a roadmap to Homer’s Odyssey (which, incidentally, has just received a new translation by Emily Wilson).  It introduces relevant scholarship and translations, discusses how the epic shaped the Western canon, sprinkles in choice etymology as well as descriptions of Mendelsohn’s Classics training, and provides a multitude of other, arresting details.

And yet.   is really a braided memoir woven with three strands: the semester that Mendelsohn’s 81-year-old father, Jay, asked to audit Daniel’s class at Bard, a subsequent cruise by father and son that retraced the Homeric voyage, and the roadmap of.  Jay Mendelsohn died shortly thereafter, framing not only his fatherhood and his life, but also .

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