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Ransom: A Novel Hardcover – January 5, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Revisiting scenes from The Iliad and delving into the hearts of two ancient heroes, Malouf (Remembering Babylon) evokes the final days of the Trojan War with cinematic vividness. After Achilles withdraws his forces from combat, a move that cripples the Greek army, his best friend, Patroclus, persuades Achilles to let him take the Myrmidons back into combat and to wear Achilles' armor. After Trojan king Priam's beloved son, Hector, kills Patroclus, guilt, rage and grief drives Achilles on a frenzied quest for revenge that sees him slay Hector and then tie Hector's corpse to his chariot and drag it around the besieged city. Priam, desperate to stop the desecration, decides to visit the enemy camp and offer money in exchange for Hector's body. He hires a humble cart driver and, aided by Hermes, they set out on a journey that takes Priam into the unknown and toward a meeting with Achilles. Though Malouf's sparingly deployed details, vigorous language and sly wit humanizes these tragic heroes, the story is unmistakably epic and certainly the stuff of legend. (Jan.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

David Malouf is widely regarded as one of Australia's greatest living novelists, and Ransom sits well alongside the rest of his work. With simple, graceful prose, cinematic descriptions, and a deeply ingrained respect for two grieving heroes, Malouf both enhances and venerates Homer's ancient epic. And while the Wall Street Journal critic felt that Somax, King Priam's cart driver, was a glib addition, others disagreed, calling him "a creation of genius, like one of those Shakespearean peasants full of good humor and even better sense" (Dallas Morning News). Ultimately, reviewers described Ransom as a standout book and a prime example of beautiful, old-fashioned storytelling.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (January 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307378772
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307378774
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #731,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By K. M. VINE VOICE on January 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Ransom: A Novel retells -- with certain changes -- the story of Troy's king Priam hazarding across the battle lines into the enemy camp of the Achaean warrior, Achilles. He takes a cart of gold which he intends to pay in ransom for the body of his dead son, Hector, whom Achilles killed in retribution for the death, in battle, of Achilles' great friend, Patroclus.

This short novel opens with Achilles mourning Patroclus by the seaside where the Greeks and their ships have been beached for nine long years. In Part I he does the deed of vengeance and then drags the body behind his chariot, day after day. "All this, he tells himself, is for you, Patroclus." He wants to see Patroclus' ghost, who came before, but his comrade does not answer.

The focus then shifts to Priam. Unable to bear what is happening to Hector's body, he, with a little encoragement from the goddess Iris, declares to his family and court that he will dress as a common man and take a mule cart laden with treasure to Achilles as ransom for his son. Hecuba, his first among wives, cannot dissuade him from what would almost certainly be a suicide mission. When she asks what will save him, he replies: perhaps the gods.

At dusk, the wagon departs the safety of Troy, and for more than fifty pages, the journey of the next few hours takes center stage. Devoting so much space to this when the Priam/Achilles meeting to which it leads is covered in thirty-four pages suggests the author, David Malouf, believes the adage about it being the journey, not the destination, that matters.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth E. MacWilliams on February 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
RANSOM is not a book. It's a time machine. Give it the slightest chance, accept it on its own terms, and it will carry you back to King Priam's meeting with Achilles just as surely as Somax's simple mule cart in this story carried Priam himself to that same meeting. Each word is smoothly polished and carefully fitted into the beautifully structured whole, creating a story that is as well crafted as a poem and which will grip you just as tightly as if you were in the wooded hills of Greece sitting around and gazing into a late evening campfire listening to Malouf spin his magical yarn of Priam's trip to find and to meet Achilles -- a short two day trip that turns out to contain almost as many life-lessons both for Priam and indeed for all of us all as did Odysseus's ten year journey home to Ithaca after the war. Throughout the trip Somax unknowingly serves for Priam much the same humanizing function as did the Roman slaves who during parades stood immediately behind returning generals in their chariots continually whispering into their ears "Remember, thou art but a man". And in so doing Somax opens vital new vistas in Priam's old mind. Observing this process is especially compelling for those of us over a certain age who will feel close to King Priam as we ourselves ride forward toward our own destinies, making peace with many painful things as we go. This book is a gem.
Kenneth E. MacWilliams
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Debra Hamel VINE VOICE on January 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
David Malouf's Ransom is a re-imagining of the events narrated in book 24 of Homer's Iliad. Achilles, mad with grief over the death of his friend Patroclus at Hector's hands, has slain Hector in turn. But contrary to convention, still savage in his unquenchable grief, Achilles daily abuses Hector's body, dragging it behind his chariot around the Greeks' camp, the insult further sorrow to Hector's parents and to the rest of the Trojans. Hector's father, Priam, the King of Troy, is visited by the goddess Iris, who bids him travel to the Greek camp and ransom his son's body. Priam does this, Achilles relents, and Priam returns home with the corpse, which the gods have preserved from decay and Achilles' degradations. Book 24 ends with Hector's funeral.

In Malouf's version the gods are not so clear in their intent. A divine vision gives Priam the glimmer of an idea, that, just perhaps, there is room for man to change his destiny through action, that the gods do not necessarily determine everything. From this spark is borne the idea of the ransom and Priam's journey to the Greek camp. The act is unprecedented. It is not done for a king to step outside his role as figurehead and act as mere man, a mortal father. Priam--apart from a day when he was six years old and seemed destined to a future as a slave--has lived his life in a royal bubble. In the real world he is an innocent, unused to the most mundane of experiences.

The most interesting thing that Malouf does with his story is to introduce a new character. In the Iliad Priam is accompanied on his trip to the Greek camp by his herald Idaeus. In Ransom Priam's companion is a simple carter, Somax, the owner of a pair of black mules and a wagon.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David Island on April 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David Malouf's "Ransom" is a gem, a lovely 5-part little 219-page novel, starring Achilles, his friend Patroclus (briefly), the King of Troy Priam, Priam's wife and son Hector (briefly) and Somax, a day laborer. It is a perfect novel, parsimonious, absorbing, and filled with an extensive, thoughtful philosophy describing what it means to be a human being. In some ways, it is a parable.

Malouf's other sensational novel, "An Imaginary Life" (see my review), touched on what it means to be civilized. Taken together, these marvelously told stories should be on everyone's reading list because they epitomize how great modern (though historical) novels are constructed.

The primary chacater is the old man Priam, who devises a radical, risky, creative plan to retrieve Hector's body from the avenging and unforgiving Achilles.

In some ways the story is a bit gory and violent, but these features are alleviated by Australian Malouf's lyrical prose. He is simply a great story teller, a touch better (perhaps) than Canada's Alastair MacLeod("No
Great Mischief" -- see my review). While MacLeods' story telling genius charms you, Malouf goes farther and makes you think, reflect and remember (not unlike Anabel Lyon's "The Golden Mean" -- see my review).

There are flashes of humor, little examples of the Trojan War, often revealing the vast ignorance about the world they had back then -- brought to life in the character of Somax, a plain but philosophical, rough day laborer, who doubles as Priam's teacher and cart driver on their expedition to retrieve Hector.

What's the book about? It's about having sons -- children, raising them, nourishing them, loving them, watching them become adults.
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