Sappho's Leap: A Novel
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2005
On our recent road trip, my girlfriend and I brought along some audio books to help us stay awake. Both were historical fiction set in ancient Greece. Sappho's Leap was read by the author, and her mangled pronunciations and over-dramatic tone may have influenced my reaction, but I don't think so.

Unlike Thermopylae, the subject of Gates of Fire (review coming soon), virtually nothing about Sappho is known, Ms. Jong was free to make up just about any story she liked. And she did. Sappho's Leap is a sappy love story with a long interlude where Jong basically plagiarizes Homer, only watering him down to speed the plot. Further, and to make matters worse, Sappho's Leap is not very well-written. It is melodramatic, banal, and overly adjectival. It reads like syrup. Jong apparently can't think of a word for vagina other than "delta" and nothing for penis other than "phallus," which words are like comedy catchphrases by the end of the novel.

The book starts out well. Sappho has climbed a cliff, but pauses to reflect on the story of her life (in media res, like every Greek story). She starts at the beginning, relating how she runs away from hom with Alceous, a famous Lesbian singer. They are exiled from Lesbos for trying to overthrow its tyrant, and her adventures begin. She is married off to a paunchy lush who lives in Syracuse, although pregnant with Alceous's child, to be named Cleis (mispronounced by Jong). When her husband dies, the adventure begins in earnest. After a stay in Egypt, Sappho takes off with the fabulist, Aesop, for Delphi, but is frequently sidetracked along the way. Jong sends Sappho to the Amazons on Crete (?!?) where she causes the return of Pegasus, the island of the centaurs, the underworld, Medusa's sister, etc. In an age where the Greeks occupied the majority of the Mediterranean, Sappho manages to elude everyone for a space of ten years or more, which occupy maybe four chapters of the book.

These adventures are trite, simplified copies of the Odyssey, and add almost nothing to the plot. Nothing really improves from there. Once Sappho returns to the land of the real, Jong wraps things up quickly and predictably. The novel ends with a syrupy, happy ending. Sappho and all her lovers and friends end up living on another random island with her friends, until her daughter sails up with her grandchildren. Ugh.

And don't get me started on the "poems" at the end.

This was my first Erica Jong book, and I think it will be my last. It gets two stars only because I need a lower rung for truly pulp romance, which this book just barely isn't.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2003
Erica Jong is best known for her first novel "Fear of Flying" which was immersed in tremendous success. Pro-feminist, spiritual, poetic, tolerant and highly intellectual, Erica Jong has written numerous novels that deal with women, men, true love, lust, bad relationships, good relationships, the list is endless. Her novels are of the highest literary caliber, and the erotica she writes goes far beyond sensual pleasure. It becomes a religious experience.
Erica Jong's "Sappho's Leap" is about the historic lesbian poet Sappho, who lived in thousands of years ago in the Greek island of Lesbos. From Lesbos, we get the term "lesbian." And it was Sappho who encouraged free love, female independence, equal rights and a lot of modern ideals that were considered unorthodox in her day. Sappho was enamored with women, as well as men, and this quasi-historic novel does not merely serve to titillate the reader with her erotic adventures, it is instead a great portrayal of the great Greek poetess, a mystic journey back in time and a fervent celebration of life.
Sappho is born to an aristocratic family. When she was born, a prophetess announced that she would become famous one day. Aphrodite champions Sappho's cause and makes a bet with Zeus. Zeus and Aphrodite play a game with her life... will Sappho become the famous singer and Greek philosopher she wants to be ? Or will, as Zeus, insists, merely conform to women of her time and marry an unworthy man ? It is Sappho, in the end, who decides her own destiny. The novel is romantic, highly dramatic and full of historic accuracies, enhanced visually by the involvement of gods, goddesses and historic figures such as Queen Jezabel from the Old Testament and the fable writer Aesop. A good read for men and women alike, this novel is sure to touch you with its humor, sadness, and profound wisdom. Viva Erica Jong!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2003
Erica Jong does it again. This is her third historical novel, and it is absolutely glorious to read. Flawlessly incorporating historical facts into the novel (after reading it, you'll be able to hold your own with many classics majors), she creates a full, three-dimensional portrait of Sappho and the world she lived in. The writing is beautiful as ever, seamlessly weaving in Sappho's fragments. Jong captures the ancient voice of the original storytellers, but isn't afraid to deviate from that with hilarious language anachronisms (hint: at one point, Zeus says "Plato, schmato."). She takes historical figures, such as Rhodopis (the Egyptian Cinderella), Aesop (the famed fabulist) and Alcaeus (Sappho's contemporary poet) and fleshes them out into characters that, while not always complex, are always compelling.

Jong's Sappho is indeed a female Odysseus, traveling through lands both real and mythical, learning lessons along the way and leaving behind her songs. Sappho, like Jong's other heroines, is a consummate woman - independent, yet warm and motherly; sensual and romantic, yet able to take positions of leadership; vulnerable, yet protective of those close to her; brilliant, yet often ruled by her emotions.

"Sappho's Leap" lets us take a closer look at the poetry of the woman Plato termed the 'Tenth Muse'. It shows us how timeless the themes in her poetry really are, and points out what an enormous impact this woman has made on our own language and poetry. That, and it's a fun, exciting read that I wasn't able to put down. Hope you enjoy it! :)
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I rented this book from the library about a year or so ago. I LOVED it! I'm back here now b/c I'm putting it on my wishlist for Christmas! I want to read it again and again. I'd never read Erica Jong or anything about Sappho. I saw Erica on The Daily Show and they talked about this book and I ran to the library. You should buy this book! Greatness!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2007
Sappho has been my favorite poet for more than a decade, so it was with much enthusiasm that I found "Sappho's Leap" here on Amazon. I had my misgivings after reading so many lukewarm reviews, but decided to try it anyway. Unfortunately, after finishing the book, I have to agree with most of the two- and three-star reviews.

The story starts out strong enough as Sappho recounts her childhood in Lesbos, her special bond with her father, life with her brothers, etc. But the plot quickly turns absurd once her seagoing adventures begin. Honestly, she makes so many stops at various locations (meeting all kinds of fantasty creatures, like centaurs--couldn't we have had some realistic historical fiction?) that after finishing the book I really couldn't possibly recount the plot points in any logical sequence. The narrative almost never does more than skim the surface of Sappho's emotions and most of her "adventures" have no useful ramifications in her life or growth as a person.

As others have mentioned, the repeated insertion of Zeus and Aphrodite's dialogue, watching Sappho from above, is tedious, needless and irritating, and it interrupts what little flow the story has. Their bickering is childish and unintelligent. I believe it was Zeus' disregard of Plato--"Plato, schmato!"--that really sent my eyes rolling. Call me crazy, but I'd really rather believe the king of the gods doesn't resort to "Plato, schmato" as a retort. Ugh.

There isn't much of a climax or turning point in the book, either. Sappho just sort of meanders along through the years of her life, bouncing from one locale to the next, until she is finally reunited with her homeland and awaiting family -- but the reunion isn't all happy and the story doesn't stop there; it continues to plod along. I suppose her moment on the cliff serves as the book's heightened, climactic point, but as its resolution occurs just a few pages from the close of the story, it hardly leaves any space for reflection or a satisfying end.

I was also troubled by some of the descriptions of Sappho seducing young girls and "teaching them pleasure"--not for the bisexual aspects of it but for the borderline pedophilia in the act that resonates for the modern reader. A woman in her thirties performing sex acts on a 15-year-old girl--repeatedly--is gratuitous and distateful, and, in my opinion, serves to scandalize any current view of the real Sappho and does dishonor to her poetry, her genius, and her historical integrity.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2005
Have you ever desperately wanted a book to end but hated leaving it unfinished?

That's the way Sappho's Leap was for me. I finally finished it over the weekend and am still wishing I hadn't spent good money, even bad money, any money on it.

Admittedly, very little is known about the only ancient Greek female poet besides where she probably lived and a few snippets of her poetry. Her words are searing, lovely and sometimes erotic. But Erica Jong's novel fictionalizing her life was banal and boring and droll. Sappho, as her heroine is not only uninteresting, but has no single aspect of her personality that makes me like her. Sure, she experiences heartache and longing, but Jong simply fails to give me a reason to care.

Jong just tells me, flatly, in first person, how Sappho feels and what she thinks, but doesn't make it real for me. She tries to make Sappho into a female Odysseus and can't figure out if the novel should be a fantasy or a semi-believable historical account. And all that wrapped up with a very disappointing, Hollywood ending, tied it off into an unequivocal piece of garbage.

I can't believe Erica Jong has actually written and published eight novels. It honestly seems like she wrote Sappho's Leap specifically to sell to high school English departments to teach a bit of Greek history with a feminist slant. Regardless of whatever pocket genre she was trying to exploit, Sappho's Leap is utter tripe.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on July 22, 2003
Erica Jong is an important writer. One had hoped that in writing about one of the first and most important characters in feminist history she would produce a book worthy of the challenge. Sadly she hasn't. How anyone could could make such a fascinating story boring I'll never know. To anyone wanting to read a novel about Sappho (based on the relatively few facts that we know) I would point them in the direction of Peggy Ullman Bell's excellent "Psappha: A Novel of Sappho." They should also get a good translation of the poetry of Sappho that was not destroyed.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2003
I read this novel quickly. It is a good story and has intriguing characters. I loved the ending. It was somewhat slow in the beginning but I quickly found myself looking forward to finding out what happened to dear Sappho. It is not historical fiction though, just complete and wonderful fiction. You'll have fun with this book.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2005
I have very mixed feelings about this book and can't say I enjoyed it all that much. I love the story of Sappho, what little is known of it, and so I picked up this book expecting to see a historical fiction novel cut with realism, research, and certainly the unavoidable necessary lewdness of the celebrity of Lesbos. But monsters? Centaurs? I mean, the story of Sappho's life is not the story of The Odyssey and for the life of me I don't understand why author Erica Jong decided to give her readers a combination of Greek heroine and Clash of the Titans.

Once I was able to get past the fantasy elements, I realized that I was not being pulled into the story on its own merits. There wasn't enough emotional dimension -- for all her travels, we're shown pretty landscapes and scary oceans but we don't see enough of a real character. I read Sappho's poems in college and the talented mind behind those words is NOT present in this book.

I'm not saying the book is without its good points. Jong has certainly done a lot of research and her enthusiasm is many times contagious. But I found the whole bit a little odd... like picking up a book about Cleopatra and seeing her encounter dragons, unicorns, and the goddess Isis. If Jong had written about Ariadne, this all might have worked. The blend of fantasy just didn't add up to a palatable meal for me.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2004
The life of Sappho, a writer of erotic songs, born about 2600 years ago on the Greek island of Lesbos, re-imagined as a beautifully told myth full of gods and goddesses and magical creatures. In the style one might expect from Erica (Fear of Flying) Jong, this myth is racy, insightful and funny ? imagine ?Clash of the Titans? with blatant sensuality.
The story begins with our young heroine gaining the attention of Aphrodite and Zeus as they sit on Mount Olympus, the life of Sappho becomes a wager between the two of them, Zeus saying all her talents will be thrown away as soon as she falls in love. Fated to be favored by the gods, Sappho moves from one adventure to the next and has intense love relationships with both men and women, though Alcaeus the poet and father of her child is the main love of her life. Exiled from Lesbos for the crime of treason, she searches for love and inner fulfillment , her quest taking her to the island of the Amazons, to Egypt as companion to the Pharaoh, to the Oracle of Delphi, even a trip to Hades. Aesop the fable writer is a close companion to Sappho as they encounter centaurs, sirens, and even Pegasus the winged horse.
Lots of fun.
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