I didn’t think about including this book when I read it, but it is technically a novel. Daphnis and Chloe is a classic Greek Novel written by the author Longus. Other than his name there is pretty much nothing known about the author. The book is still fun though. On we go.
121 pages (Translated by Paul Turner, Penguin Classics edition)
The book follows Daphnis and Chloe, two children who were both abandoned by their parents in youth and survived in large part because they were nursed by a Goat (Daphnis) and a sheep (Chloe). When the owners of the animals discovered the children. Both characters are very young in the story (the full story takes place when they are around 14/15 years old.
The book is set on Mytilene in ancient Greece. The characters spend a large portion of the book together out in the fields tending to their flocks. The gods of Greece do play a part in this book, but they aren’t overwhelming all of the other characters by being the ones to solve every problem.
The plot here is something that everyone knows, two young people bound by true love. While the story in simplistic and very cliched in many ways, it’s still enjoyable. The story throws obstacles at them which they have to face to stay together in the end.
Even though it’s a story we’ve all heard probably far too many times, this is still done well and anything done well is worth reading. I enjoyed the book and it was a really quick read, which is always nice.
In my Greek Lit class we compared some aspects of this novel to the movie The Princess Bride. They are very similar in that they are very well done examples of a familiar story. Good book and worth a quick read in between other novels.
Posted by Adam on April 18, 2011
After talking to my Greek Lit teacher about The Palace of Illusions, she mentioned a similar book, The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. She let me borrow her copy and I read it today (after finishing Tough Guys Don’t Dance this morning) and while The Palace of Illusions is a good idea carried out effectively, The Penelopiad is absolutely brilliant.
196 pages (paperback)
Stand alone-ish (read the Odyssey before reading this, but if you’re familiar with the story of the Odyssey you can get through this easily enough, for the Odyssey I suggest the translation by Stanley Lombardo, it was an easy read)
This book is the story of Penelope that takes place during the 20 years that Odysseus was away during the Iliad and the Odyssey. Penelope is a fantastic character in this book and has a wonderful snarky/sarcastic attitude.
Oddly enough, this book is set in modern times. The story is set with Penelope being a shade in Hades and after 3,000 years of being largely ignored by all of history. She is telling you her story as she remembers it, the story that no one has told for 3,000 years.
For the overall plot, if you’ve read the Odyssey or are at all familiar with the story, you know what is going to happen. But hearing it from Penelope’s perspective is new and different and interesting. The author focuses on Penelope’s struggles with dealing with her lack of power and trying to control what she can from behind the scenes. The author also focuses on the maids that Odysseus killed after first killing the suitors who had been courting Penelope.
Another fantastic aspect of the story that the author does is that she cuts to a chorus part (usually the 12 maids) who will sing a small song or tell a short story throughout the book. If you’ve ever read any plays from Ancient Greece (which we just finished in my class) you’ll notice that the writers commonly had chorus parts that were used to help fill in the backstory to the play. This is very well done in this book and doesn’t feel out of place at all, even though it is something that is very strange to most people reading modern literature.
I loved the book and didn’t want to put it down until I finished reading it. It was a brilliant concept beautifully executed.
If you enjoy Greek Mythology at all go find this book, it’s well worth your time.
Posted by Adam on April 15, 2011
This book was suggested to me by a friend in my Literature of Ancient Greece class. This book is a retelling of the Mahabharata, which is a sanskrit epic of ancient India. It was an interesting book with a very interesting way of retelling an ancient tale. The book is written by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.
Nearly all ancient myths centered around men and their stories. This is where Divakaruni does something completely different in retelling this tale. She tells the story from the viewpoint of Panchaali (birth name of Draupadi), who is the wife of the 5 Pandava brothers. Panchaali is an interesting character, but had she not been the primary viewpoint character, she probably wouldn’t be anyone’s favorite character. I would assume that this in largely to keep in line with the myth, but she is driven by jealousy and a search for vengeance throughout the story. Given that she is the viewpoint character, this is well disguised as she is able to offer her reasoning for her actions throughout the book. While the story focuses on Panchaali and her thoughts and motivations, the other characters in the book are all interesting and prove to be able to stand up to Panchaali’s dominance of the book.
The book is set in ancient India and describes some aspects of life during the time it was based. The settings follow the three main areas of Panchaali’s life, living in palaces for large parts of it, exiled in forests for other sections, and being involved in the largest battle anyone has ever seen in their time. Divakaruni is fairly descriptive for most of the book (which again may be taken from the myth, in myth you don’t explain what life in general is like unless it directly affects the character, it’s assumed to be understood by the reader/listener of the story) but the descriptions of The Palace of Illusions about halfway through the book were wonderful.
The story begins with the childhood of Draupadi in her father’s palace. She was born in a ritual where she was essentially an unexpected child, the ritual was in place so that her brother Dhristadyumna could be born to take vengeance for her father. As such, she is unwanted for most of her life and largely secluded. She is given no choice about who she will marry and her father picks her husband through a competition. She is ultimately wedded to all 5 of the Pandava brothers. The story follows the Pandavas and Panchaali as they struggle to regain their rightful place as kings.
The book is written in such as way that it would be better to be familiar with the original story of the Mahabharata. Being written this way, the book has a tendency to simply refer to other stories in Indian myth without going into them with too much detail. While this was a little annoying at times as I’ve never read the Mahabharata and am not familiar with it or other Indian myths, it helped to give a weight to the world that led you to understand that there was a huge backstory, even if you didn’t know it. I enjoyed this book a lot and knowing that it was written from a prior tale makes it interesting in many ways. Imagine the story of the Iliad being told from Helen’s point of view, that is essentially what this book is.
Posted by Adam on April 5, 2011