review: the song of achilles

25 February 2015

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: independent bookseller
pages: 378
review written: 25.2.2015
originally published: September 2011
edition read: Ecco

title: The Song of Achilles
author: Madeline Miller

Achilles, "the best of all the Greeks," son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful— irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods' wrath.

They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice. (summary and image from goodreads)
Note: I'll try to give away as little as possible, but remember that this story is ancient so I'm not as careful about spoilers :)

It's been years since I've sat down in one sitting and finished an entire book. I've read The Aeneid and the Iliad and the Odyssey, but one story always fascinated me more than the others: Achilles and Patroclus. I've just finished this book, two minutes ago, and I am so filled with love for the story Ms Miller has written. Whereas The Iliad by Homer detailed the events and the names, Miller gives the story of war a more human taste.
She makes the wise decision of choosing to tell the story through Patroclus, a mortal, rather than through Achilles the demigod. I found Patroclus' narrative fresh and true to Homer's narrative of The Iliad. The writing is descriptive when it needs to be, but simple everywhere else. Simple in the best meaning of that word. The book is not laden with heavy words, rather with precise and sharp ones. Writing is best when one uses few words to achieve the best meaning as opposed to using lavish ones to reach that same meaning. Each word was chosen skilfully. This style made it easy for me to continue reading, and to keep a reader interested is a talent I admire as a reader myself. I've been in a terrible reading slump, but this book has revived me. With heavier literature, I'll pause to soak in the words, leave the book alone for a few days, and go back to it in the same routine. The amazing quality of this work allowed me to read it all in one go.
What I loved most was the romance between Achilles and Patroclus. When I read The Epic of Gilgamesh, I noted the homoerotic sub-context between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, while my teacher insisted it was just comradery. This denial of the possibility of homosexuality in ancient times in the literature world is only a little surprising. When the Western World rediscovered Ancient Greece and Rome, with excavataions and translated texts, they ignored and even tried to hide the evident suggestions of homosexuality in literature. However, the original words of Homer suggested such a relationship and the question will remain whether Achilles and Patroclus were lovers. In The Song of Achilles, the romance was not like any other I've ever read. Their relationship is strong, so much so that spoken words were not as needed as they are today. I remembered watching Troy, starring Brad Pitt. The relationship was between two cousins, close friends and nothing more. I remembered watching Alexander, where the relationship between Alexander and Hephastion was a lovers one. They both grieved the loss of their partner: Achilles to Patroclus, and Alexander to Hephastion. Both grieved in incredibly similar ways. In The Iliad, Achilles laments Patroclus' death like Andromache grieves for Hector. I strongly believe that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers. Therefore, I was incredibly thrilled to see it written out in The Song of Achilles. I'm absolutely in love with this very real and honest relationship that Miller has created. If you're a sucker for love stories, this is one to go with. A friend of mine, who's a homosexual, commented on the lack of LGBT representation in literature where the characters are NOT their sexuality. For instance, the "gay best friend" character, or the main character who's story is all about "coming out". I thought back to The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, A Separate Peace (by John Knowles) as the only examples I could think in which sexuality was not the central idea. I'm happy to add The Song of Achilles to that list. Gay people are not their sexuality, although by me labelling them as "gay" it seems like I'm ironically disproving my point. I digress.
I'm incredibly happy to have purchased this book so that I can keep it on my shelf along with my favourites. I'd recommend it to anyone! I can't find my image file for 6 umbrellas, so I'll stick these five umbrellas to attest to my love of this book.

book haul: classics

Hello readers!
 So as you all know, I'm going to be going to university in this fall. Which university, I'm not sure yet because I've applied through regular decision. As soon as word gets in and all the details are finalised, I'll let you all know! Well, I'm really interested in classical studies, including Greek and Roman architecture, philosophy, literature, and culture. Now, all of this "studying" I plan on doing in the next few months, completely on my own, would require spending a lot of time with a single book. Granted, the library didn't have any of the books I wanted to read. Therefore, I made a massive leap in actually buying books. It was under $20 and I thought I deserved something nice, as I've been working every single weekend the past few months. The money went to my savings account, no questions asked. A gift to myself is well deserved!

 It's snowing in Georgia and in this wintry weather, I'm at home (classes were cancelled at the university) drinking chai with these amazing books. Here they are:

Mythology-Edith Hamilton
This is one I've read already, but that I've wanted to read through for some light reading every once in a while. It's a bit heavy to open up my copy of the The Iliad or The Odyssey, and especially Plato's The Republic. Although I had my history books and my National Geographics to rely on, I craved the classical. This comprehensive collection of concise, yet deeply rich and fascinating, myths was an unforgettable. In my "Mythology" phase, and I'm pretty sure every reader's had one, this volume was one that I couldn't stop thinking about and now I'll actually own it!

Love, Sex and Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives by Simon Goldhill
In my research of the "Classical" major, I found this book in the Cambridge University Classics page as a book that upcoming students would have to read in order to have a solid enough background in order to hold good conversation and understand the material throughout the course. My goal had once been to go to Oxford University (for some reason, Cambridge seemed like a Harvard type, stern and stiff, while Oxford seemed like the Brown University type, vibrant yet also intelligent). Unfortunately, with my financial circumstances where they are, and the difficult procedure international students must go through, I couldn't quite fit Oxford into my life. I hope that I can apply there for grad school, and just get my undergrad done here in the States. OFF TOPIC. And ON the topic of how the ancient world shapes our lives. Although I'm quite aware of the profound impact the ancient Roman and Greek societies had upon the shaping of our western world, I'm only able to grasp at vague ideas like "democracy." I'm especially looking forward to this one!

The Song of Achilles- Madeline Miller
I read a review of this on one of my most favourite book blogs, Tiny Library, a long time ago and resolved myself to read it. As I looked up books to read pertaining to the myths, including many Greek poems and plays, I thought I'd use it as an excuse to get this lovely fiction novel! It's the first book I'm going to read!

Thoughts? Suggestions? What are you all up to?

review: where angels fear to tread

15 February 2015

Tuscany Sunrise by Adnan Bubalo

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: library
pages: 195
review written: 15.2.15
originally published: 1905
edition read: Bantam Books

title: Where Angels Fear to Tread
author: E. M. Forster

The book begins with a thirty-something English widow bidding her in-laws goodbye as she prepares for a tour of Italy with her friend. Her brother-in-law comments "Here beginneth the New Life" (Forster 5), highlighting a sarcastic undertone the novel will address, along with themes of society, culture contrasts, morality, and good intentions gone wrong. When the widow, Lilia, arrives in Italy, she sends word to her family that she is to be married--and this action is the catalyst to the fatal events that will follow. In the tradition of Madame Bovary, Forster comments on the snobbish British upper-class through the discontent of a lonely woman and the tragedies that ensue her perilous decision.

I first got a taste of E.M Forster from his novel, Maurice, where I was amazed at how it was possible to hate every single character, even the protagonist. To make the writer feel such overall discontent with all the characters is a skill I noted, and recognised when I searched for books to read. Much like Maurice, Where Angels Fear to Tread involves a scheming mother and a son who held his mother with a certain level of contempt.

What I loved about this story was that I went in knowing nothing of what the story was going to be about. In fact, I've deliberately written my own summary so as to reveal as little as possible about the plot itself. The twists and turns and unexpected transitions were absolutely masterful, and incredibly thrilling to read. The characters were, for the most part, well-written and well enjoyed though I do find fault with one aspect.

The subtle sexism I found in a book consisting mainly of female characters (only 2 male characters) was not surprising, but I'm still displeased by it. A sentiment I've noticed from other literature from this time period is that women are weak of the mind and body. Almost the exact same thoughts are regurgitated all across the board from Madame Bovary to Where the Angels Fear to Tread and so on. The plethora of male authors, coupled with the stigma against female authors, might be one of the causes. Nonetheless, I was disturbed with certain lines that only appeared in the male perspective, like "Evidently she had the usual femenine incapacity for grasping philosophy" (81) and the man mocks a woman by finding her a room "in the comfort that befits your sex and disposition" (102). In a public event with a lady accompanying him, the man "[wished] she had no come looking like a guy" (123). While the last is not necessarily sexist, it struck me the wrong way because I've been criticised on many occasions for dressing "masculine", which is something that I think shouldn't displease anyone.

Nevertheless, the cynicism and the dry humour were two aspects I enjoyed very much from the book. Although the language and pretentious, false concern/expression did bother me, they did not take away from my opinion of the book as a whole. The book is a relatively short read and contains a fascinating, engaging plot with colourful and intriguing characters (though I think some descriptions of them were slightly unrealistic). I'd recommend this book to readers interested in a witty, quick read about the faults of the British upper class and the clash of cultures.

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