Customer Reviews: Penelope's Daughter
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VINE VOICEon October 5, 2010
If you are a fan of The Odyssey you are sure to enjoy the events that transpire in this book. While the struggles of Odysseus to return home to his family following the Battle of Troy are not the focus of this novel - the life of his family at home, and also that of the life of Helen of Troy following the war, are expanded upon. We also learn that after Odysseus set off for war, his wife, Penelope, had a daughter that he never knew about. We explore Xanthe's life throughout the twenty years that Odysseus is gone and it ends just after he returns home.

Each chapter of the book begins with a description by Xanthe of a part of her weaving that she is working on. Xanthe has decided, while locked away in her bedroom, that she will tell her life's story through a giant weaving. She explains choices for different colors, techniques, threads, and as you read on in the chapter, you can see how this weaving mirrors her life. It is a very interesting story telling device, although at the beginning of the story it did leave me a little confused.

Xanthe can break down her life into three distinct sections - and the book is broken down the same way - Ithaca, Sparta, Ithaca. The first part, Ithaca, Xanthe is a very young girl. She doesn't really understand the world that is unfolding around her now that her father has been gone for so long and the politics that are at play. I had some trouble getting into this section - it just felt a little more dry to me than the rest of the book. The second part, Sparta, is Xanthe's life at the court of Helen of Troy. She was sent there to try an escape The Suitors. Here is where the story really picked up for me. This is where Xanthe really grows up and learns more of her role in life. Then the third part, Ithaca, is her return to Ithaca and the family reunites with Odysseus. It really is a coming of age story for Xanthe.

The author creates a very vivid Greek world. The descriptions of the traditions, coming of age rites and initiations, and worship of the Gods and Goddesses were beautifully rendered and well researched. The characters that were very much marginalized in The Odyssey and even non-existent characters were fully fleshed out in the pages of Penelope's Daughter. You were really able to see what drove them to the decisions that they made and who they were. One character whose story really blew my mind was Helen of Troy. Xanthe learns a lot about the circumstances surrounding why Helen went to Troy. You also get into the back story of Helen's life prior to Troy. That was the most interesting and touching part to me.

If you are a fan of The Odyssey or a fan of Greek mythology this is a book that should certainly not be missed. You will not be disappointed by the tale that unfolds and will be completely sucked into the story of Xanthe.

This book was received from the publisher in exchange for a review and this was also posted on my blog.
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on October 7, 2010
Penelope's Daughter , written by Laurel Corona, takes Homer's The Odyssey and flips it on its head...focusing instead on what happened to his wife Penelope, daughter Xanthe and son Telemachus during his absence, as narrated to the readers by Xanthe while she weaves the story of her life on her loom.

Most of us know of Homer's The Odyssey from required reading in school, but I have to admit that I don't remember very much of the experience. I can say now that if it was as entertaining as Penelope's Daughter I might have paid a lot more attention! It just took a few pages and I was caught up in Xanthe's world with Corona's entrancing style of writing and exquisite descriptions.

My most favorite part was how the author began each chapter with Xanthe at the loom describing the colors she would use to represent a person, event or place that had meaning to her.

On her brother, Telemachus: "He is woven in green, with little tufted knots of white, like the olive in bloom where we used to play when I was six and he was eight years old."

On her life in Sparta: "I took a charred ember from the fire and, going to the hidden side of my weaving I darkened what I had woven about Sparta until it was caked in black. Sometimes from the front of the loom I stare where I know the black is hiding, imagining little holes burning through the cloth. We think we can control the story we present to the world, but the truth always lies in the background, awaiting its chance to illuminate and scar."

This was my first read by Laurel Corona, but you can be bet I will be back for more! Penelope's Daughter was one phenomenal book and I highly recommend it!
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on June 8, 2012

There seems to be a popular genre in modern literature, most likely started by Anita Diamant's The Red Tent: A Novel, that takes popular ancient stories and tells them through the viewpoint of a female protagonist. These stories often downplay the male characters to the point of making them look foolish, while elevating the female characters to near sainthood. The genre delves into the "secret" lives of ancient women that usually involve goddess worship, horrifying puberty rituals, and premarital sexual relations despite their culture's enormous value on virginity. While I always welcome old stories told through new perspectives, especially male-dominated tales told through the eyes of women, I don't like how the authors interject their own modern views of what female empowerment means.

"Penelope's Daughter" fits this genre to a T, flaws and all. It has a very interesting premise: when Odysseus sails away to Troy, Penelope doesn't know she's pregnant with a daughter. This daughter, Xanthe, grows up never knowing her father. The novel is strongest in the first half when we learn of her childhood and how she ended up living with Helen (yes, THE Helen) in Sparta. Once she gets to Sparta, though, the novel takes a strange turn. Xanthe latches on to Helen and practically worships her. Anything Helen tells her to do, she does, despite her initial protests. Go through some crazy puberty ritual that involves unwanted genital touching? OK! Go lose your virginity even though that may bring shame to you and your family? OK! Through Helen, the author spreads her own modern viewpoints about female sexuality and empowerment, which are out of place in a story that takes place 3,000 years ago. For instance, Xanthe ends up "dating" and having sex with the man of her choice before the two of them get married. It's as if the author couldn't stand to allow her beloved protagonist to actually have a more realistic arranged marriage while still a virgin.

The final straw for me, though, was her portrayal of Odysseus. The entire novel builds up to the point when the hero finally meets the daughter he never knew he had. So what happens? He blows her off. And no wonder - Xanthe is introduced to him in dirty rags by a servant, just after he slaughtered the suitors. She should have been introduced by Penelope, beautifully dressed to greet her father. The author couldn't even give her a nice introduction to her father. Because, like other novels in the genre, the men are just ignorant brutes who could care less about women unless they can be used to serve their needs. God forbid Odysseus, or another male character including Telemachus or Orestes, be seen in a positive light. In fact, the only good male character is Xanthe's lover - but of course the protagonist can't be portrayed having a boyfriend who is deeply flawed like the rest of the men in her life.

Overall, I loved the story and most of the characters, but didn't like the anachronistic viewpoints or the graphic sexual descriptions. Otherwise, this could have been a truly great novel. The author did do a good job of doing her research and accurately describing the clothing and women's lives at the time. Which makes scenes such as Helen telling Xanthe she should take a lover all the more puzzling.

As a better novel in the same vein, I would highly recommend Homer's Daughter. Robert Graves (Penguin Modern Classics). The novel goes on the premise that Homer was actually Nausicaa in "The Odyssey". It has a strong female protagonist without the sex or anti-male sentiment. I would also recommend Hercules, My Shipmate, also by Robert Graves, which portrays goddess worship and strong male and female characters.
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on May 10, 2013
I chose this rating because it's ok as a read for anyone who does not know any of the (various) original versions of Penelope and her husband Odysseus. The main characters are rendered very thin for anyone who can supply his/her own previously acquired notions and sandwich Penelope's daughter into them. It's definitely in the category of chick-lit although it might be kind of boring for many "chicks" and for me although I don't consider myself a chick anymore. If the women are not weaving (which they do an awful lot), they are planning to honor or honoring a goddess (mostly Hera, although Athena gets a nod), thinking about how to dress for an occasion, and thinking about a husband (where he might be, if he's coming back, or who he'll be). Sex is satisfactory if the guy shows up; otherwise you're on your own. Helen is gorgeous and obviously knows how to dress to her advantage, but we knew that already. Penelope is faithful and having a hard time with the suitors who really only want her money or rather Odysseus' kingdom Ithaca which isn't a whole lot to write home about, which we already knew as well. Odysseus does eventually get home etc etc etc.and kills them off. The characterization of most men is especially thin - they do or do not wear armor (depending on the situation), they are often gross (which might correspond to historical reality), but there is absolutely no sense of why they entered history as larger than life figures. I only finished the book because my reading group chose it. It'll be an interesting discussion because one of our members is a professor of Classics.
There are many authors since antiquity who have elaborated on the ancient myths and their characters and many of these have become part of very high ranking world literature. The most recent one that I read before Penelope's Daughter was Ransom by David Malouf, 2009, which is on my shelf where I keep books that I will read again and again. By contrast, Penelope's Daughter would be donated to the public library if I hadn't bought it on my kindle.
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VINE VOICEon November 6, 2010
PENELOPE's DAUGHTER takes us to Greece 12th century BC and to the court of the small country of Ithaca where a girl waits for Odysseus the king, the father she has never seen. In an increasingly dangerous world without its ruler, she is exiled to the court of the fabled Helen of Troy, where she grows into womanhood. But Xanthe lives in a world where goddesses are as real as the earth she stands on and the sensual mysteries of becoming a woman and life in two courts are as real as if the author walked in them herself so many years ago. While painfully unraveling the mysteries of her father's absence, her mother's grief, dangerous betrayals and rivalries, and the real fragile women beneath Helen, Xanthe weaves all their stories into cloth with her loom as she steadily grows into her own womanhood and her own first love. A visceral and rich book about a young woman -- in a time when women had very few options -- who seizes her own world and weaves something wonderful of it.
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on August 12, 2013
Corona weaves a masterful story. The book is written from a feminist perspective, adding a refreshing twist with which readers can connect and empathize. Corona's prose captivates, as does her unique formatting. Each chapter begins with threads of Xanthe's memoir. This writing is personal; she speaks directly to us. She shares her emotions, as she relates the events of her life. Through this artistry, these events are not only woven into fabric on Xanthe's loom, they also represent the thread and fabric of her life. This storying brings readers into intimate contact with principal players. Penelope, Helen, and Xanthe are portrayed as strong, intelligent, and resilient women. The author offers rare insight into each of the characters, but perhaps, especially Helen, Menelaus, and Odysseus. The author does not lead readers to judgement, but rather invites us to make up our own minds. Beautifully written. Well,well worth the read. Compelling--I'm looking forward to reading more from this talented author.
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on November 19, 2011
I enjoyed this book but was glad that I chose to read it before giving it to my 14 year old to read. I know that children and teenagers differ in what they have been exposed to and what they are comfortable with. I wish that there had been a review stating that this book might not be appropriate for pre-teens and/or some teens. Helen of Troy tells Xanthe who is still young and very sheltered that she should have had sex by now and its her choice to find someone she deems suitable and to basically "try it out". There were also descriptions about different ways to have sex and sexual things that I would have been uncomfortable with my daughter reading without me being aware first so that I could then be ready to discuss it with her.
Just my two cents. It does mention her "passion of her sexual awakening" on the back of the book, which is why I read it first. I enjoyed it myself.
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on January 30, 2014
You may know the story of Odysseus and the Trojan War, but do you know about his pregnant teenage bride, Penelope, and 1 year old son that he left behind for 10 years. His daughter, Xanthe was born a few months after he departs for Troy. Her story is woven on a loom. Interesting if you like Greek Mythology and/or weaving and thread making.
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on February 22, 2012
I was excited to read this book after seeing the positive reviews but I found the book to be a missed opportunity. I kept waiting for the author to explore Penelope's relationship with her son and Helen's relationship with her husband and daughter but it never happened. The book is overtly sexual, which is fine when sex serves the story but sex became the story in this novel. It was disappointing. I would recommend Michelle Moran's novels, especially Nerfertiti and the Hertic Queen, for the right combination of history and romance. I would also recommend Norah Lofts' The King's Pleasure and The Concubine about Katharine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn respectively for Tudor fans. There is great historical fiction available and this novel failed to earn a place in my library.
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on May 15, 2013
I confess: I'm a junky for books that retell the story of the Trojan War, the Odyssey, and/or Helen of Troy. My favorites? Margaret George's Helen of Troy, Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad,and Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Firebrand. Now, I'm adding Laurel Corona's fine book, Penelope's Daughter, to that list.

The book is told from the perspective of Xanthe, the daughter Odysseus never knew he had. Don't go looking for Xanthe in The Odyssey; you won't find her. She's strictly the creation of Corona's fertile imagination. But her story is one that could have been, if Homer hadn't dismissed women as important characters in history. No matter. Homer himself could not have written so heart-felt and compelling a story.

Xanthe is a beloved princess of Ithaca, but when the suitors arrive on Penelope's doorstep eager to claim Odysseus's wife and kingdom, Xanthe is sent to live in Sparta with Helen and Menelaus to protect her from the unwanted advances of the suitors, all vulgar men who would quite happily rape and impregnate the princess if it meant they would win the kingdom. Here she grows from childhood to womanhood under the love and guidance of none other than Helen herself. In Sparta, Xanthe learns the ways of the goddess and both the travails and pleasures of being a woman. Here, she falls in love.

But when Odysseus finally returns to Ithaca, Xanthe is forced to return home. Will the father she never knew marry her off to one of his cronies as some sort of reward for their loyalty, or to one of Penelope's suitors? Or, just might he allow Xanthe to wed the man she loves?

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that I know Laurel Corona. She and I signed books together at this year's Whittier College Meet the Authors Book Faire. I found her personable and engaging. She did not ask me to review her book, nor does she know yet that I have reviewed it. But in that same spirit, know I am being honest when I say I found this book mesmerizing and difficult to put down. Corona is a gifted storyteller. I cannot wait to read another one of her books.
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