“Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate” by Daniel Mendelsohn— The Randomness of Lives

Mendelsohn, Daniel. “Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate”,  University of Virginia Press, 2020.

The Randomness of Lives

Amos Lassen

In “Three Rings”, Daniel Mendelsohn explores the mysterious links between the randomness of the lives we lead and the artfulness of the stories we tell. He brings together memoir, biography, history, and literary criticism together through the stories of three exiled writers who turned to the classics of the past to create their own masterpieces that look at the nature of narrative itself— Erich Auerbach, the Jewish philologist who fled Hitler’s Germany and wrote his classic study of Western literature, “Mimesis”in Istanbul,  François Fénelon, the seventeenth-century French archbishop whose sequel to the “Odyssey”, “The Adventures of Telemachusis a veiled critique of the Sun King and the German novelist W. G. Sebald, self-exiled to England, whose narratives explore Odyssean themes of displacement, nostalgia, and separation from home.

Mixed into these tales of exile and artistic crisis is an account of Mendelsohn’s struggles to write two of his own books–a family saga of the Holocaust and a memoir about reading the Odyssey with his father. Both are tales of oppression and wandering. As we read we get a revelation about the way in which the lives of its three heroes were linked across borders, languages, and centuries and we reconsider the relationship between narrative and history, art and life.

This is a book about telling stories that provokes thought with its originality.