Baillie Gifford Shortlist 2017: An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and An Epic Poem by Daniel Mendelsohn

Review published on November 16, 2017.

Mendelsohn has been passionate about the classics, so much so that he teaches it at Bard College. One year his eighty-one-year-old father, Jay, decides that he will sign up and join the young people learning about this epic tale for the first time. Jay is a retired research scientist who was a maths expert but realises that this is his one last chance to discover about the great literature of the world, something that he didn’t do when he was being educated. So begins an emotional adventure that they both undertake, as they teach the students and learn about each other’s perception of the tale and Mendelsohn peers through the chinks in the armour to see the secrets that his dad has not spoken about all his life. This journey into the book inspires them to take a cruise around the Mediterranean where they visit the places mentioned in the book, and it gave Mendelsohn a collection of memories that he will treasure forever.

It is a touching memoir of Jay Mendelsohn and Daniel Mendelsohn and their relationship that was straightforward and complex at the same time. As he works his way through The Odyssey, he draws parallels between that and his own life journey with his parents and his father in particular. He is open with his relationship that he has had with his father and takes time to be open and explain details as the discovery of things that were to clarify what made his father the way he was. One challenging part of the book was that I have never read The Odyssey, so this book was a voyage of discovery in certain ways for me. It is a book that has never crossed my radar before but might give it a go one day. Worth reading for those that was a different take on a family memoir.

Paul Cheney 3/-

An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and An Epic Poem by Daniel Mendelsohn
William Collins 9780007545124 hbk Sep 2017

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