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An Imaginary Life Paperback – May 28, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 28, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679767932
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679767930
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #376,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

In the first century AD, Publius Ovidius Naso, the most urbane and irreverant poet of imperial Rome, was banished to a remote village on the edge of the Black Sea. From these sparse facts, one of our most distinguished novelists has fashioned an audacious and supremely moving work of fiction. Marooned on the edge of the known world, exiled from his native tongue, Ovid depends on the kindness of barbarians who impate their dead and converse with the spirit world. But then he becomes the guardian of a still more savage creature, a feral child who has grown up among deer. What ensues is a luminous encounter between civilization and nature, as enacted by a poet who once catalogued the treacheries of love and a boy who slowly learns how to give it. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

In the first century A.D., Publius Ovidius Naso, the most urbane and irreverent poet of imperial Rome, was banished to a remote village on the edge of the Black Sea. From these sparse facts, Malouf has fashioned an audacious and supremely moving novel. Marooned on the edge of the known world, exiled from his native tongue, Ovid depends on the kindness of barbarians who impale their dead and converse with the spirit world.Then he becomes the guardian of a still more savage creature, a feral child who has grown up among deer. What ensues is a luminous encounter between civilization and nature, as enacted by a poet who once cataloged the treacheries of love and a boy who slowly learns how to give it.

"A work of unusual intelligence and imagination, full of surprising images and insights...One of those rare books you end up underlining and copying out into notebooks and reading out loud to friends."--The New York Times Book Review

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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It is a book that deserves several readings.
kirlena walsh
The catalyst for much of the effort to learn is a "creature" that also is present among Ovid and his neighbors.
taking a rest
This book was captivating, beautifully written and imaginative.
Mark Buckley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Emma Kate on September 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
"An Imaginary Life" is one of the most mesmerizing books I've ever read and it's certainly the most poetic and beautiful. There isn't much of a plot in this book nor is it a character study. To me, it's more akin to a long prose poem (and Malouf is also a poet as well as a novelist), though it really isn't a prose poem, either. "An Imaginary Life" is a poetic flight of fancy, an impossibly beautiful reverie and a dazzling story of "what might have been yet could never be."
Most of the events this book relates are, of course, imagined. We know that Ovid was exiled and we know to where, but about what happened during that exile, we know nothing, not even the date or exact place of Ovid's death.
Malouf has used this absence of known facts regrding Ovid's exile to weave a gorgeously ephemeral portrait of a man and a boy who, together, find the wellspring of both humanity and love, something neither could have done alone, despite Ovid's reputation in Rome.
While the storyline of "An Imaginary Life" isn't particularly mesmerizing on its own, Malouf's lush, poetic prose makes it so. This is a short book, really more of a novella than a novel and I can't imagine anyone not reading it in one sitting. One sentence simply flows into the next and I was riveted from the first page to the last.
Highly recommended to anyone.
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44 of 50 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on January 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
The title of this review is from Ovid's Metamorphoses. It has been quite some time since I read of Hercules, Pygmalion, Thisbe, and a host of others. I do not believe the original Ovid must be read to enjoy Mr. David Malouf's book, but it certainly add to the experience. The irony is Ovid's work is probably four or five times the length, and even a greater consumer of time. A general grasp of what he wrote will suffice. The book also can be read with no reference material, and perhaps that is as the Author intended, each reader will have to decide.
In his work, "An Imaginary Life", the Author takes you to an Ovid in exile. His Emperor has sent him away to a place he knows nothing of, amongst a people as different from he as perhaps can be imagined, and without the ability to communicate at all. Time facilitates the learning of language, and the differences that first are so extreme between Ovid and his fellow inhabitants moderate if they do not disappear.
The catalyst for much of the effort to learn is a "creature" that also is present among Ovid and his neighbors. This is what I believe to be the "shape transformde" in Mr. Malouf's tale. Many are changed when the story is complete, perhaps most importantly Ovid. Mr. Malouf makes many points about nature, the definition of what it is to be human, and human relations. However for me this was not the most fascinating event while reading.
The Author places Ovid in the midst of a situation where everything is unknown to him. Perhaps the most dramatic unknown is a young child that lives among the Deer that he is said to have grown up amongst. When Ovid becomes aware of the child, he desires to capture the boy.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A.J. Lenrope on March 7, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an extraordinary, fascinating, and deeply moving book. Malouf brilliantly takes Ovid's exile to the furthest outpost of the Roman empire and makes of it a beautifully written, beautifully executed meditation on imagination and "what it is to be human." It is a strangely liberating book, for, to quote the text, "We are free to transcend ourselves. If we have the imagination for it."
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe VINE VOICE on June 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
There is something magical in Malouf's writing in this short novel; there is poetry in the evocation of the imagined later life of the famous Roman poet Ovid. Taking as a starting point the scant knowledge available about Ovid's time in exile in a remote place at the edge of the Empire, the author creates a rich physical and a deep emotional and philosophical landscape in which Ovid discovers a new sense of humanity and identity.

Exiled to Tomis, a remote outpost on the Black Sea, he starts out as a tolerated outsider. Nobody knows or cares for who he was. This is a different culture, far away from the sophistication and pleasures of Rome. Life here is basis, "barbaric", confined to survival in a rough climate. Malouf beautifully evokes the poet's mental transformation from the somewhat dismissive outsider to an appreciative follower, and later member, of the community. In the process he also questions his own worldview and the society he left behind. "I begin to see briefly, in snatches, how this old man, my friend, might see the world. It is astonishing. Bare, cruel, terrible, comic. And yet, daily he seems nobler and more gentle than any Roman I have known. Beside him I am an hysterical old woman. Utterly without dignity." Ryzak, the old man, teaches Ovid more than the local language; he is the cornerstone of his survival, guide into the local traditions, protector against the hostile old woman...

While the seasonal routines control the rhythm of life here, the protagonist finds out more and more also about the mysteries of the place, the metaphysical beliefs of the locals, and the evil spirits that haunt the forests. And then, suddenly there appears "the Child", physically aged about eleven, a feral creature whose existence in the forest cannot be explained.
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