An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic

An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic

by Daniel Mendelsohn


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New York Times/PBS NewsHour Book Club Pick

From award-winning memoirist and critic, and bestselling author of The Lost: a deeply moving tale of a father and son's transformative journey in reading—and reliving—Homer's epic masterpiece.

When eighty-one-year-old Jay Mendelsohn decides to enroll in the undergraduate Odyssey seminar his son teaches at Bard College, the two find themselves on an adventure as profoundly emotional as it is intellectual. For Jay, a retired research scientist who sees the world through a mathematician's unforgiving eyes, this return to the classroom is his "one last chance" to learn the great literature he'd neglected in his youth—and, even more, a final opportunity to more fully understand his son, a writer and classicist. But through the sometimes uncomfortable months that the two men explore Homer's great work together—first in the classroom, where Jay persistently challenges his son's interpretations, and then during a surprise-filled Mediterranean journey retracing Odysseus's famous voyages—it becomes clear that Daniel has much to learn, too: Jay's responses to both the text and the travels gradually uncover long-buried secrets that allow the son to understand his difficult father at last. As this intricately woven memoir builds to its wrenching climax, Mendelsohn's narrative comes to echo the Odyssey itself, with its timeless themes of deception and recognition, marriage and children, the pleasures of travel and the meaning of home. Rich with literary and emotional insight, An Odyssey is a renowned author-scholar's most triumphant entwining yet of personal narrative and literary exploration.

Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Library Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, and Newsday
Kirkus Best Memoir of 2017
Shortlisted for the 2017 Baillie Gifford Prize

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345806215
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/31/2018
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 25,931
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

DANIEL MENDELSOHN is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, where he is the Editor at Large. His books include the international best seller The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and many other honors; a memoir, The Elusive Embrace, a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year; a translation, with commentary, of the complete poems of C. P. Cavafy; and two collections of essays, How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken and Waiting for the Barbarians. A professor of Humanities at Bard College, he is Director of the Robert B. Silvers Foundation.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

April 16, 1960

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


B.A., Classics, University of Virginia, 1982; M.A., Classics, Princeton University, 1989; Ph.D., 1994

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An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and an Epic 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing story of classics professor teachong a seminar on the odyssey whoch his father attends- excellent memoir and literary event--loved the book!
SheTreadsSoftly More than 1 year ago
An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn is a very highly recommended memoir of a father, son, and The Odyssey. Jay Mendelsohn, a retired research scientist, decided to take the undergraduate seminar on Homer's Odyssey that his son Daniel teaches at Bard College. It was Jay's hope that this would enable him to understand the classic epic, as well as why his son has devoted his life's work to the classics. What follows is not only insights into Odysseus and the epic poem, but also the relationship between father and son. The two study together in Daniel's class where Jay challenges his son's interpretations. He questions why Odysseus is even considered a hero, after all, Odysseus is a liar, cheats on his wife, often cries, gets his men killed, and often needs the gods to intervene and rescue him. Teaching his seminar with his father questioning him actually encourages Daniel to justify his interpretations of the text as he teaches it. Additionally, Jay and Daniel take an educational Mediterranean cruise together that attempts to re-create the journey of Odysseus. This is an exquisitely written memoir. It is an insightful, extraordinary, emotional examination of The Odyssey and the relationship between father and son. Daniels uses the epic to highlight lessons he is learning in real life with his father. Their studies and trip uncover secrets that allow Daniel to understand Jay and their relationship. So while this is a memoir and a study of The Odyssey, it also represents other father-son relationships and the journeys life has taken them through. Daniel blends literary analysis with personal family history and creates a powerful work that is an enduring tribute to both Jay Mendelsohn and The Odyssey. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.