Books

Rita Kohn

Troy

by Adele Geras

Harcourt, Inc; $17

Ithaka

by Adele Geras

Harcourt, Inc.; $17

Adele Geras created two novels, Troy and Ithaka: The first details the 10th year of a war in the besieged city, the other describes the final second decade of waiting for the return of one who sailed off to that war.

The premise in both is intriguing. It's a story told mainly through the lives of women and children: boys who are growing into warriors and lovers, girls who are growing into women whose normalcy is life without fathers. The gods are visible to a select few. The events play out on the whims of the gods. A weary Athena says, "I hadn't meant it to go on so long."

The one certainty through it all, remarks an elder woman, is that "Someone has to clean up." In the end, it is she who determines that no matter what, to survive is the essential destiny of women.

When Homer sang the stories, the ordinary people knew their parts. They longed to hear the tales of the warriors. Geras has given back what we have lost: the daily lives of the palace servants, shop keepers, artisans, farmers, shepherds. What we learn is the geography of Troy and Ithaka, the lay of the palaces, the similarities between Troy under attack by the Greeks, and Ithaka besieged by suitors. Each book ends with unspeakable slaughter.

One can read each book independently. Troy begins with the Blood Room - the commissary - where maimed Trojans are brought to die or recover. Ithaka opens with a synopsis of why Odysseus feels compelled to take up arms with Agamemnon in defense of his presumably wronged brother Menelaus. The words sound eerily contemporary. Penelope says, "It's not your war. It's not your fight. What's Agamemnon ever done for you?"

How odd that words travel so blithely across time and place, with so little effect on those who make war.

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