Books · World

January in Books

Reading The Odyssey feels like an odyssey. To have to contort my mind to understand Ancient Greek customs, musings about the position of women in Greek life and the strange yet strangely familiar xenos, takes forever. And this was just the Author’s Note! It’s my excuse to Goodreads as it unhelpfully reminds me that I am “three books behind schedule”.

The Odyssey

Emily Wilson is the first woman to have published an English translation of The Odyssey, that I know of. And while the first female translator may have piqued my interest, it’s the fact that this is the best translation of The Odyssey that I have read, that’s kept it. I also own Samuel Butler’s prose translation of Homer’s works, and the difference is striking. Where Wilson is light and rhythmic, Butler is academic. Both are brilliant, but I prefer Wilson’s more readable, song-like one, that feels more authentic for a work that must have been narrated and performed over the years, not unlike the Ram-Leela.

Here are the two translations:

Tell me about a complicated man.
Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost
when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy,
and where he went, and who he met, the pain
he suffered in the storms at sea, and how
he worked to save his life and bring his men
back home. He failed to keep them safe; poor fools,
they ate the Sun God’s cattle, and the god
kept them from home. Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.
Find the beginning.

– Emily Wilson’s translation in iambic pentameter

Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home; but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Hyperion; so the god prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, too, about all these things, oh daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them.

– Samuel Butler’s translation

Read it if you like…

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Another classic!

What can I say about Agatha Christie that hasn’t already been said?

Just that her reputation as the most widely read author in the world after God and Shakespeare, is well deserved.

Christie is a master of the craft of mystery writing. With no gore or cheap thrills, she cleverly weaves a murder mystery where you follow along with the clues liberally sprinkled through the novel, to try to figure out the identity of the murderer. But of course, more often than not, you can’t, and when Poirot does, you’re left agape. There are very few of her books where one feels cheated at the end, the vast majority are those that you could solve by paying attention.

Ackroyd is one of my favourite Christies of all time and it was a pleasure to read it again, even though I knew the identity of the murderer. Hey, she’s the best for a reason!

Read it if you like…

Revolution for Dummies, Egypt

“You might expect me to narrate the epic events of the Arab Spring — to tell you the details of the geopolitical and sociological circumstances (whatever that
means) that led to the various Arab revolutions throughout the Middle East, and the great hopes and aspirations that came with them. You might expect me
to give you an in-depth analysis of how everything there now seems to be a total desperate mess. But do you really care about that? Be honest, don’t you just want to make it seem like you understand the Middle East by dropping knowledge bombs (at least these don’t hurt) on your friends, but you’d rather hear it from that Egyptian guy you saw a couple of times on The Daily Show?”

You got me, Bassem.

Bassem Youssef is an Egyptian political satirist who was driven out of his country because, as he puts it, dictators tend to be very thin-skinned. What struck me most about his style is that he sounds like frustrated liberals everywhere, annoyed by people who use religion as an excuse for stupidity. This rings true in a post-Trump world where the media is constantly labelled “fake” (the same as Egypt) and a post-Modi world where journalists are murdered (also the same as Egypt), the Arab world simply doesn’t seem too foreign or unfamiliar. And Youssef is an excellent, witty guide through the madness of a revolution (or handbook for dictators, whichever way you want to look at it).

I’m also looking forward to watching a documentary about his story, appropriately named “Tickling Giants”.

Read it if you like…

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