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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 :
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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
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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
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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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White, E.B.: The Trumpet of the Swan

  Amazon  

3.5 stars

E.B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan tells the story of a trumpeter swan, Louis, who is born--hatched--unable to make a sound. Louis's father, concerned that his son won't be able to attract a mate, flies to Billings, Montana, and steals a trumpet from a music store. Louis spends the rest of the book playing gigs with the instrument--he masters it with implausible ease--in order to pay for the trumpet and restore his father's honor.

There are things to like about this book, in particular the character of Louis's father: he's an egocentric bird given to long-winded but amusing orations.

"'Here I glide, swanlike,' he said, 'while earth is bathed in wonder and beauty. Now, slowly, the light of day comes into our sky. A mist hangs low over the pond. The mist rises slowly, like steam from a kettle, while I glide, swanlike, while eggs hatch, while young swans come into existence. I glide and glide.'"

And I suppose the story of a youngster who overcomes adversity through perseverance and a prosthetic (which is what his trumpet amounts to) has its appeal. But the book is inherently flawed insofar as it is a mixture of different types of story.

When the book begins, the main character appears to be Sam Beaver, an 11-year-old boy who is fond of wildlife and records his discoveries--among them the trumpeter swans' nest--in a journal. But Sam soon becomes a peripheral character, and the focus switches to a swan couple, Louis's parents, who have made their home on a lake in Canada near Sam's campsite. At this point the book is a quiet and educational nature story. The swans communicate with one another, but otherwise behave in a natural, swanlike way. A quarter of the way into the story, however, the book jumps the shark: Louis flies off to visit Sam Beaver and attends school and learns to write. (He subsequently acquires the trumpet and further implausibilities follow.) If the book had started out as this kind of story it would have worked better. But the sudden switch in the book's character fifty pages in is hard to swallow.

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