“An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and An Epic” by Daniel Mendelsohn— One to Wait For

Mendelsohn, Daniel. “An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic”, Knopf, 2017.

One to Wait For

Amos Lassen

As a reviewer, I am often asked who my favorite writers are and I usually answer that I have no favorites but there are those that I seem to be always waiting for to write a new book. One of those writers is Daniel Mendelsohn whose books have a special place in my home library. It has been a while since we have last heard from him but there is good news in that he has a new book coming to us on September 12. It is not just what Mendelsohn writes about or how he writes that make him a special author; what I love is that he makes me think and sometimes he does this in every word and sentence he puts down.

“An Odyssey” is sensitive and moving record of Daniel and Jay Mendelsohn, father and son, who relive Homer’s “The Odyssey” as they go on a transformative journey together. At the age of 81, Jay Mendelsohn enrolled in an undergraduate seminar on Homer’s epic at Bard College that was taught by his son, Daniel. Before long, the two men find themselves on an emotional and intellectual adventure.

Jay is a retired research scientist who tends see the world through a mathematician’s eyes and he decides that the time has come for him to learn about the great literature that he had not studied as a young man. This also was to be a final opportunity to more fully understand his son, a writer and classicist. I can only imagine the discomfort that Daniel must have felt having his father in a class that he taught but something very important happened here. As the two men studied Homer together in the classroom, Jay often and persistently challenged his son’s interpretations. The two men decided to embark on Mediterranean journey together and retrace Odysseus’s voyages and here it became quite clear that Daniel was to be his father’s student. As Jay’s responded to both the text and the travels, secrets that were once buried come to light and allow the son to understand his difficult father at last. Soon, Daniel’s narrative becomes an echo of the “Odyssey” as father and son face the themes of “deception and recognition, marriage and children, the pleasures of travel and the meaning of home”. The story soon becomes both a personal narrative and an exploration of literature. If only I had had such an experience with my father, my life surely would have been very different.

Combining literary investigation and human , we get a book that is like no other in recent years. The two men shared a journey that is often filled with humor and is always sincere as it pulls at the readers’ heartstrings.

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