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The Lost Books of the Odyssey

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An extraordinary imagining of episodes, fragments and revisions of Homer's Odyssey, a book destined to become a modern classic.

About the Author

Zachary Mason is a computer scientist specialising in artificial intelligence. He was a finalist for the 2008 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. He lives in California.


Adult/High School-The opening chapter of Mason's imaginative first novel begins with Odysseus, having spent several years after his battles in the Trojan War struggling to find his way home, finally getting to the shoreline of his island kingdom of Ithaca. Instead of finding his wife patiently waiting for his return, he discovers that Penelope has married a fat old man she knew to be impersonating Odysseus. The author follows this humorous twist with a series of Calvino-esque, interlocking short stories and vignettes-some shorter than a page-that sculpt and explode Homer's original plot. Mason's near-deadpan writing style and wild imagination make this a very funny work as readers see events like the blinding of the Cyclops through the eyes of poor Polyphemus, mythical cities transformed into tourist traps, and heroes who are at best clueless and at worst blatantly cruel. This could easily be the territory of campy satire, but Mason moves well beyond that. He destroys and rebuilds Odysseus from the outside in, forcing readers to think about this mythic character in a modern and often-psychological way. While the book is certainly a more entertaining ride for readers who really know Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, it includes some helpful footnotes that are informative and poke fun at the original myths and our constant reinterpretations of them. Although he can at times be too clever for his own good, Mason's novel displays a high level of fun and thought.-Matthew L. Moffett, Pohick Regional Library, Burke, VA Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Mason's fantastic first novel, a deft reimagining of Homer's Odyssey, begins with the story as we know it before altering the perspective or fate of the characters in subsequent short story-like chapters. Legendary moments of myth are played differently throughout, as when Odysseus forgoes the Trojan horse, or when the Cyclops-here a gentle farmer-is blinded by Odysseus while he burgles the Cyclops's cave. Mason's other life-as a computer scientist-informs some chapters, such as "The Long Way Back" in which Daedalus's labyrinth ensnares Theseus in a much different way. Part of what makes this so enjoyable is the firm grasp Mason has on the source material; the footnotes double as humorous asides while reminding readers who aren't familiar with the original that, for instance, Eumaios is "the swineherd who sheltered Odysseus when he first returned to Ithaca and later helped him kill the suitors." This original work consistently surprises and delights. (Feb.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

In his 70th year, not content to live out his golden years with the long-suffering Penelope, his son Telemachus, or his grandchildren, Odysseus sets sail to revisit the lands of his past triumphs-Calypso's cave, Circe's island, a now-thriving Troy-only to wonder if his memories have deceived him. Was there a point to the destruction, the deaths, and the loneliness engendered by 20 years of wandering? Like the lost Gospels of the Bible, these imaginary lost books of The Odyssey enhance Homer's epic tale with alternative scenarios and viewpoints. A finalist this year for the New York Public Library's Young Lions Award, Mason employs clear, crisp prose and a clever sense of humor (at one point he has Odysseus in analysis), to propel the action briskly. VERDICT This will appeal to many types of readers: students studying the original Homer, lovers of ancient history and mythology, those interested in the depiction of the power struggle between men and gods, and readers looking for echoes of Joseph Campbell's work. In the end, however, Lost Books is not so much an engrossing story as a paean to the power of storytelling. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/09.]-Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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