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Ransom: A Novel Paperback – January 25, 2011
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Beautifully written, the story supports what James Campbell describes as the Power Of Myth. The characters in the novel are larger than life figures but with human characteristics. So in that sense the novel is about all of us even in the 21st Century at least 3000 years after the Trojan War.
It's a story about loss and grief, fathers and sons, youth and old age, love and duty. It's relived in some way, every day, everywhere.
It's about brotherly love, living in the moment, understanding your mortality and joy. It's also very sad, describing ultimate and devastating loss.
Piam as King is remote from everyday life. His guide Samos brings him back to earth. Piam decides however to do something himself beyond the role and life the Gods and his position has designated for him. This something is to retrieve his son’s body. Achilles also is trapped in a situation where his love for Patroclus has driven him. The ransom provides a way out for both of them. Both will die soon but al least they had lived. It raises the question of how far we are free to choose the path that our lives take. Both Achilles and Piam are creating stories about themselves that will allow themselves to live on in the minds of men. Piam know he will die soon and his fate will be for his naked body to be dragged into the streets where dogs will tear him apart. Rather than his death being the story he has created a better story of his life. These issues we all can ponder upon.
The Gods or fate or chance, whatever you call it, can affect the world but they don’t change human nature.
That this tender novel lingers so long and hauntingly in the mind is a testament both to Malouf’s poetry and to his reverence for the endless power of myth.
Here's an example of a passage that, in my opinion, fills the book with force and literary brightness: Priam is explaining to his family why he wants to meet Achilles, despite its dangers and their natural protestations - he wants to undertake,
`An act, in these terrible days, that even an old man can perform, that only an old man dare perform, of whom nothing now can be expected of noise and youthful swagger. Who can go humbly, as a father and as a man, to his son's killer, and ask in the gods' name, and in their sight, to be given back the body of his dead son. Lest the honour of all men be trampled in the dust.'
This is just one example (and not by any means the best) of what helps make this book such a joy to open and just...enter.
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. It's about brotherly love (and perhaps further, normal love between some men), living in the moment, understanding your mortality and joy. It's also very sad, describing ultimate and devastating loss. Achilles builds a funeral pyre for Patroclus on a scale equal only to the pyre built by Alexander the Great -- after the death of his life-long lover, Hephaestion.
I read it essentially in one "sitting," on long flights from San Francisco to Europe. Read it and enjoy. It's a winner and a clear 5 on Amazon's rating scale.