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The Lost Books of the Odyssey: A Novel Hardcover – February 2, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 75 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.)
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From School Library Journal

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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (February 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374192154
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374192150
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #751,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
When the author gave his first reading of this book in New York he spoke about the book in clinical terms; its use of mathematical principles, the book as a study of recursion. But this book could not be less clinical. Though the tale is told in vignettes, each offers a different window into a sliver of the human condition with all its pain and drama and the emotions that motivate a human life.

A beautiful treatment not just of Odysseus, but also of Homer's other characters, the novel fleshes out these iconic figures so that they can be touched and tasted and felt.

In the Jewish tradition there is the idea of writing midrash -- stories that explain the tales from the bible by filling in the human connections between the lines. Mr. Mason has succeeded in writing very believable midrash on the Homeric epics which illuminate the text by giving us further angles by which to view.
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I was privileged to see an early draft of Zachary Mason's Lost Books of the Odyssey, and I am delighted that this multi-talented young writer / scientist / athlete has found a publisher for the full, prize-winnning version. Fans of Jorge Luis Borges will find much to savor here, as will devotees of Neil Gaiman: Mason effortlessly blends the intricately imagined settings of the former with the pensive chill of the latter, to fresh and sometimes startling effect. I'll skip the hyperbole and superlatives that surround every notable fiction debut nowadays, and suggest that if you are a fan of the original, are hungry for skillful, soulful writing, or just looking for a good read, buy the Lost Books.
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Format: Paperback
Unlike the Odyssey translations by poets Robert Fitzgerald and Richmond Lattimore, Zachary Mason's newly published version of The Odyssey takes a post-modernist approach--casual, playful, earthy, and even scatological. Using the traditional story of the Odyssey as his starting point, Mason gives his own take on various episodes from that epic, jumping around in time and place, changing major aspects of the story, adding new episodes, and providing unique points of view. Odysseus is not an epic hero here. Rather, he is an often arrogant man who loves killing, often acts cruelly, and even makes mistakes, a real man whom Athena abandons for part of the narrative.

In Mason's version of this epic, the story lines change. Odysseus himself vies for the hand of Helen and has some success in winning her. After the death of Achilles, Odysseus creates a golem of Achilles out of clay so that Achilles can keep fighting. He tells the tale of Polyphemus, the giant, from Polyphemus's point of view, that of a peaceful farmer who offers hospitality to the men whom he finds occupying his cave when he returns home, and the payment they give him. Mason gives several different accounts of Odysseus's return home (choose your favorite)-in one, Penelope is a "shade," a ghostly presence whom he cannot touch. In another, she has given up waiting for him and found another husband. At other times, she is described as still bedeviled by the suitors. In yet another, Odysseus returns to find his entire city abandoned.

Even Homer himself appears in this novel, lying in a hammock and dreaming of discovering a great book. Odysseus, on the other hand, actually finds a copy of the Iliad, written by the gods before the Trojan War, in Agamemnon's cabin on the ship.
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Format: Paperback
For those of us who come to novels expecting something more than a novel, who want graceful prose and intellectual rigor, who want to come away feeling as though we've discovered a world that is new and yet reminds us of the fictional worlds we love best, for those of us who are nearly always disappointed, Zachary Mason's Lost Books is an exception.

His sentences are lithe and muscular, and his project is large -- he will make you return to the Odyssey to be sure you haven't remembered it incorrectly, and, perhaps most astonishingly, he will change the way you remember the Odyssey.

I have long believed that, in Eliot's words, "a new work of art ... is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it," but it's been a long time since I watched a contemporary author do this with such grace. In addition to its austere, sometimes poetic beauty, in addition to the play with text and form and time, Lost Books is that rare synthesis of big ideas and small, gorgeous moments.

Put Lost Books on the shelf beside Borges, Calvino and Homer. It merits rereading and rereading.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Zachary Mason's "The Lost Books of the Odyssey" is a tour de force for devotees of the classical epics. The premise, delightfully conceived, is that a number of alternative accounts of the Trojan War and Odysseus' ill-fated journey home circulated in the ancient world, and that these tales were denigrated in favor of the official accounts that have been handed down to us in The Iliad and The Odyssey. Mason is our guide through these Gnostic gospels, surprising us nearly every step of the way.

Familiar stories are up-ended by being re-told from the point of view of the supposed villain, like Polyphemous and Medusa. Alternative explanations are given which challenge the traditional explanation for why things happened as they did. We are given rich character backstories which greatly enrich our understanding of their later actions. For anyone who has found themselves roaming before the walls of Troy or following Odysseus on his journey back to Ithaca, "The Lost Books of Odysseus" is an incredible treat which will remain with you long after you have put it down.

As an aside, Mason's command of language-- particularly the archaic --is considerable. Unless words like termagant, casuistry, and verdigrised roll of your tongue, you might want to either have a good lexicon by your side, or (like me) read this work on your Kindle, which allows for easy lookups without interrupting the flow of the narrative.
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