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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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Sharratt, Mary: The Real Minerva

  Amazon  

4.5 stars

Life in 1920's Minerva, Minnesota--the fictional town in which the action of Mary Sharratt's The Real Minerva unfolds--is hard on those who are not fortune's favorites. Teen-aged girls mooning over matinee idols turn quickly into hardened farm wives with work-ravaged hands and too many children. But more onerous than the simple demands of survival in a difficult environment are the constraints imposed by the small town's repressive society, whose members abhor and squelch diversity and police behavior with vicious gossip and shaming. The three women on whom Sharratt's quietly suspenseful novel focuses are each eager to be free of the confinements imposed on them from without, to shed their identities and become reborn, to have possibilities open before them. Of the three, former Chicago society matron Cora Egan has largely succeeded in shedding her past by the time the novel begins. Having fled, pregnant, from her abusive husband, Cora settled on her grandfather's farm, which she now operates by herself, doing men's work while dressed in men's clothing. Since she has elected to live outside the roles prescribed by society for women, Cora is despised and feared in Minerva--a situation which has the potential to make her life not only lonely but dangerous. Cora is joined on the farm eventually by fifteen-year-old Penny Niebeck, who is herself fleeing the shameful behavior of her mother--an affair with a married man--which threatens to render them both outcasts. Together Cora and Penny raise Cora's infant daughter, working hard but happily--an idyllic period that readers will constantly sense is threatened by the potential re-appearance of the baby's abusive father.

Mary Sharratt's novel is about repression and rebirth and heroism, about the difficulty of simple living in early 20th-century, rural America, about the relationship between parents and children and the nearly insuperable obstacles that can rise up between people incapable of communicating. And it is about how a life's course can be altered irrevocably by a handful of choices. Despite the weight of the book's subject matter and the casual cruelty and violence it depicts (but does not wallow in), the story Sharratt tells is ultimately uplifting. Her heroines persevere and finally survive, scarred but strengthened by adversity, adopting in their different ways the strategies exemplified by the characters of Athena (whose Roman counterpart, Minerva, lends her name to the characters' home town) and Penelope in Homer's Odyssey. (Throughout much of The Real Minerva Penny is in the course of reading the epic, and Sharratt weaves the stories of Athena and Penelope lightly into her narrative. My one complaint about Sharratt's novel is that her Odyssean references sometimes struck me as forced.) The Real Minerva is a rich, beautifully written novel, and it is highly recommended.

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