From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Already a celebrated critic, memoirist and classicist, Mendelsohn drew together his interests in ancient history, literature, gay life and culture, and beautiful language to produce the finest, most readable version of the modern Greek poet Cavafy (1863–1933) to come along in decades. Cavafy has long been highly regarded by American readers, especially for the straightforward, seemingly timeless, hard-to-pin-down tone of his poems—which alternately revel in and suffer from both ancient Greek history and homoerotic desire—but, as Mendelsohn observes in his deeply impassioned and informative introduction, many American readers overlook those poems that are deliberately set in the obscurer margins, both geographical and temporal, of the Greek past... in favor of the works with more obvious contemporary appeal. With this new, completely annotated, translation, Mendelsohn says he aims to restore the balance, to help readers reanimate Greek history with Cavafy, to see how relevant and pressing his whole oeuvre truly is. This larger volume (Knopf is also publishing Mendelsohn's version of Cavafy's Unfinished Poems, never before translated into English, as a separate volume, reviewed below) contains all the poems by Cavafy we have known in English, from famous works like Ithaka (you will understand, by then, these Ithacas; what they mean) and The First Step (you must claim your right to be/ a citizen of the city of ideas), all rendered with a lucid music. This is likely to be the definitive Cavafy for some time to come. (Mar.)
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*Starred Review* The first decade of the twenty-first century ends as it began, with a new, near-complete translation of Cavafy. But whereas Theoharis Constantine Theoharis’ literarily distinguished Before Time Could Change Them (2001) let several naive impressions of Greek-less readers stand, and Aliki Barnstone’s yet more readable Collected Poems of C. P. Cavafy (2006) did nothing to dispel them, Mendelsohn’s effort corrects them. Besides sketching Cavafy’s rather bland life and appraising his poetry as a whole, the introduction explains Cavafy’s poetic techniques and Mendelsohn’s approximation of them in English. Cavafy’s Greek originals are mostly rhymed, metrically regular verses, in familiar forms early on and relaxing into verse paragraphs as he matured. His diction became more demotic as he developed, though he always used bits of nineteenth-century literary Greek for historical and cultural nuance. This technical information may be revelatory for ardent yet unscholarly admirers of the poetry but should only increase their admiration. More revelation, for those who haven’t ferreted out the historical references in the poems, comes in the 282 pages of notes Mendelsohn has written as clearly and gracefully as the introduction. There are at least three older translations than Mendelsohn’s, Barnstone’s, and Theoharis’, and in them Cavafy is the same. But Mendelsohn has gone the extra mile, so to speak. If it was a great effort for him, it is an immensely gratifying pleasure for Cavafians to follow in his footsteps. --Ray Olson
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