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Publisher's Summary

From award-winning memoirist and critic, and best-selling author of The Lost: a deeply moving tale of a father and son's transformative journey in reading - and reliving - Homer's epic masterpiece.

When 81-year-old Jay Mendelsohn decides to enroll in the undergraduate Odyssey seminar his son teaches at Bard College, the two find themselves on an adventure as profoundly emotional as it is intellectual. For Jay, a retired research scientist who sees the world through a mathematician's unforgiving eyes, this return to the classroom is his "one last chance" to learn the great literature he'd neglected in his youth - and, even more, a final opportunity to more fully understand his son, a writer and classicist. But through the sometimes uncomfortable months that the two men explore Homer's great work together - first in the classroom, where Jay persistently challenges his son's interpretations, and then during a surprise-filled Mediterranean journey retracing Odysseus's famous voyages - it becomes clear that Daniel has much to learn, too: Jay's responses to both the text and the travels gradually uncover long-buried secrets that allow the son to understand his difficult father at last. As this intricately woven memoir builds to its wrenching climax, Mendelsohn's narrative comes to echo the Odyssey itself, with its timeless themes of deception and recognition, marriage and children, the pleasures of travel and the meaning of home. Rich with literary and emotional insight, An Odyssey is a renowned author-scholar's most triumphant entwining yet of personal narrative and literary exploration.

©2017 Daniel Mendelsohn (P)2017 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Mendelsohn is an artful storyteller whose skills are equal to the task of weaving Homer's poem into his own life. In this insightful, tender book, Mendelsohn gracefully marries literary criticism and memoir to describe an intellectual and personal journey that becomes one of profound discovery for both [father and son]. Most impressive are his transitions from scholarly consideration of The Odyssey to intimate stories of his family life, as when the class discussion flows effortlessly into a magical moment, witnessing [his father] Jay as he offers a heartbreakingly beautiful tribute to his wife.... [There are] many wise lessons to be gleaned from this lovely book." (Harvey Freedenberg, BookPage)
"Beguiling...in this memoir, Mendelsohn recounts a freshman class on the Odyssey he taught at Bard College with his father, an 81-year-old computer scientist, sitting in. ...Mendelsohn gradually unwraps layers of timeless meaning in the ancient Greek poem; Homeric heroes offer resonant psychological parallels to a modern family. Mendelsohn weaves trenchant literary analysis and family history into a luminous whole. A gem." ( Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
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    4 out of 5 stars

Seems written with the READER in mind. Perfect

I believe this was written FOR ME, and I believe you will feel the same. Not only is it about the teaching college freshmen the story of the Odyssey, it is about the authors' discovery of the universality of family strife and love. It is cunningly written in the same ring composition that Homer uses to write The Odyssey. The whole book is a circle, even the similarities between his father, Jay, himself, even his wife and other relatives. We don't learn much about Dan's sons, but I am sure he could write circles around them too!! I love the slow reveals, the apparent diversions and easy return to the story at hand. There are stories within stories, AND sentences within sentences. It's easily readable. It's almost like a Proem itself. Read this book before taking the class.... **everything** is in it and prepares your reading mind to understand it.

For me, it's a lesson in fiction composition, narration, and structure. I love the language lessons, the breakdown As for the Odyssey, I feel like I gathered enough facts to survive a trivia game if some basic facts of the Odyssey were included. LOL.

At any rate, it's worth your time. I purchased the Kindle edition just to keep up with the words. You can read it at the surface or you can dissect it and discover its application to your own life.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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History woven into a nice tribute to a father

I enjoyed this book. It was well written and the narration was fabulous. It did get tedious at one or two points when the college professor couldn't help but lecture on and on. However, if you stuck with it, he wove the tale of Odysseus, his father Laertes, and his son, Telemachus, into his own life, where his dad played a starring role. I really enjoyed the portrayal of Dr. Mendelsohn's father, who enrolled in his son's seminar on the Odyssey. The voice of the authors' parents were so well rendered and so colorful it kept me going through the more pedantic passages.

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nice story

it's like being in a real good book club for Homer's The Odyssey, different perspectives and insights throughout.

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  • AKB
  • St Louis
  • 08-28-18

A voyage for all of us

This is an astounding and moving book. Part psychological meditation on identity, part linguistic and mythological explication, having Mendelsohn as a guide is having the best teacher you could imagine. His compassion, insight and love of both his father and his students--as well as his subject--were spot on. I was sorry to reach the end.

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A Gift of a Memoir

This book is one of those where I felt completely bereft when it was finished. I have loved listening to this multi faceted story. Every level interconnects from what we learn about ancient languages to the epic itself, about a teacher and students, and most of all, about fathers and sons. Beautifully crafted. I am left with so many things to think about. Thank you, Daniel Mendelssohn.

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Captivating story

Really enjoyed this story and the relationship between the father and son thatcame late in life.

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Breathtakingly poignant

I was swept away by the beautiful descriptions of a father and son and the epic poem through which they connect. The narration was as tender-hearted, finely tuned and compassionate as the prose. Bravo!

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Worth the time

A beautiful account of father and son, intertwined with insights into the Odyssey. Lyrical writing, perfect narration.

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Two stories in one book

Loved this. Great way to hear the Odyssey again and explore the relationship between a son and his father. My only complaint was the rendition by the narrator of the father's voice . . . found that irritating. Otherwise, wonderful.

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  • kgohl
  • WORCESTER, VT, United States
  • 04-22-18

Old Bardian buys book

Am I the only old Bardian out there who buys this book to imagine themselves back in a freshman seminar? Probably not. But even if you are not an old Bardian, even if you have only a passing interest in the topics mentioned in the subtitle, you'll find yourself drawn in by the author, his family, his study of the classics, his circling, his discussion of the Odyssey, and his relationships with students. I had expected to enjoy the book, but I had not expected to become so entangled. It is a delight.
I should also mention that the narration by Bronson Pinchot is beautifully done. I had to keep reminding myself that this was not the author reading.