Imagine that you have gone back in time 3000 years to the city of Ithaka to greet Odysseus, the sole survivor of a decade of adventures, shipwreck, and mayhem, on his long-awaited return home. Recognized by his loyal dog, he is really a stranger to his son, Telemachos, and even to Penelope, the wife who, flicking off suitors like flies, has managed to keep his household intact. Imagine his shock when she informs him that she has another surprise in store; when he left for Troy some twenty years before, he fathered twin daughters. These daughters, now mature and preternaturally gifted, are determined to travel with their mother to the Pythian oracle to learn what the gods have decreed as their fate and to do the goddess's bidding. Imagine, in other words, the next episodes of The Odyssey told in the voice of a woman, in this case a woman who has faithfully waited for her husband to return, who has diligently performed all her duties as wife and mother, and who now wants to experience the same adventure and freedom as her heroic spouse. An interesting conceit, no? In this ambitious, unusual and riveting story, Rawlings pulls it off splendidly. Recounted in a fast-moving, unrhymed free verse (strongly reminiscent of the Lattimore translation) that both pauses and gallops, she pulls us back into the landscape and the culture of pre-Attic Greece. She makes us see how this tale might have unfolded if Penelope had been celebrated by Homer. She takes us on adventures that would confound even the cunning Odysseus, and brings herself and her daughters back intact to a husband who has been forever changed and a household that has survived her absence. It is a woman's tale unlike any that has ever been written, and it is, at the same time, the stuff of high adventure.
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Published October 1, 2003
by David R Godine.
Literature & Fiction.