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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
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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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
By Debra Hamel


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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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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Jordan, Pete: Dishwasher | Main | Bosch, Pseudonymous: The Name of This Book is Secret »

Huler, Scott: No-Man's Land

  

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Crown © 2008, 286 pages
4 stars

Author Scott Huler found himself in his forties becoming obsessed with Homer's Odyssey, the epic that takes up where the Iliad leaves off, tracking Odysseus' adventures en route back home at the end of the Trojan War. Taking his inspiration from the Joyceans--fans of James Joyce's Ulysses who celebrate Bloomsday every June 16th by following the fictional Leopold Bloom's route through Dublin--Huler decided to travel the Mediterranean following the similarly unreal footsteps of the hero Odysseus. Huler left his pregnant wife behind and took off for, among other destinations, Calypso's island (Malta) and the Cyclops' cave (on Sicily) and the islands associated with the Sirens. Odysseus' visit to the Underworld is reenacted more in spirit than in fact.

[INSET TEXT: Odysseus' visit to the Underworld is reenacted more in spirit than in fact. ] Huler's book serves as a light-hearted introduction to the Odyssey and to various questions related to the epic--many but not all of them having to do with geography. In this Huler is largely successful. His discussions of the text make for good reading, both his plot summaries and his personal observations on the text. And his tone is charming and inviting. Here, for example, he describes what happened on the island of Thrinacia, when Odysseus' crew, against orders, roasted up the cattle of the sun god:

"There's a nice reaction scene when Odysseus, like Moses coming down from Sinai and seeing the worship of the golden calf, comes back from communing with the gods to smell the burning meat. Whether it's a spit-take, a whap of palm to forehead, or just a slow shaking of the head, you feel Odysseus thinking: 'Oh for pity's sake, what next?' The hides of the cattle begin crawling along the ground, and the meat 'both roasted and raw' begins to bellow. You want to know hungry? For an entire week, the men continue to eat meat that's actually mooing at them. That's hungry."

As a travelogue the book works less well for me. Certainly the idea behind the book, the Odyssean hook, is very clever. But travel writing is most interesting when an author has the time to report on the quirks of a particular community or location. Huler doesn't stay anywhere long enough to be able to do this. His reports on the places he visits are quick and mostly unmemorable. There is much talk of the progress made on the journey and the modes of transport employed and the irritations met along the way. But one place on his travels looks very much like the rest after a while.

Huler's journey, both geographic and literary, is at the same time emotional: the author learns various Odyssey-related lessons along the way. Some of this comes off as affectation (was he really contemplating cheating on his pregnant wife with a stewardess on Calypso's island, or is that mere literary trope designed to bind his own experiences with the story currently under discussion?); some of it seems real enough.

There is an inherent difficulty in the task Huler undertook: the Odyssey, like Joyce's Ulysses, is fiction. It may contain snippets of historical truth, and some of the places used as settings in the book may be identifiable in the real world, but Odysseus did not, for example, blind the Cyclops Polyphemus in a cave in Sicily and escape with his men by clinging to the bellies of sheep. Huler knows this, but still, the lines between fact and fiction sometimes get blurred in his narrative:

"I spent a lot of time in that cave--probably close to two hours. I reread the episode and thought about where in this particular cave the monster and the crewmen might have stood, what the episode meant, and what the hell I was doing sweating in a cave full of goat shit north of Trapani, Sicily, while five thousand miles away my wife gestated alone."

So, a little silly at times and sometimes melodramatic, and perhaps fifty pages over-long, but because of its great concept and the author's pleasant way of introducing readers to Homer, Huler's No-Man's Land is certainly worth the read.

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Comments

1.

Sounds good, and I really like the excerpts. It sounds like a useful and gentle introduction to the Odyssey, if like me, you've never read it! Interesting what you say about the blurring of fact and fiction - it happens to lot of people, I find.

2.

The Odyssey is on my list for later in the year, so I've jotted this down as a book to pick up then as a companion piece. Thanks for the recommendation.

3.

I think they'll be fun to read concurrently, Ann. I hope you like it!




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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.