In this perceptive retelling of The Iliad, a young Greek teacher draws on the enduring power of myth to help her students cope with the terrors of Nazi occupation.
Bombs fall over a Greek village during World War II, and a teacher takes her students to a cave for shelter. There she tells them about another war—when the Greeks besieged Troy. Day after day, she recounts how the Greeks suffer from thirst, heat, and homesickness, and how the opponents meet—army against army, man against man. Helmets are cleaved, heads fly, blood flows. And everything had begun when Prince Paris of Troy fell in love with King Menelaus of Sparta's wife, the beautiful Helen, and escaped with her to his homeland. Now Helen stands atop the city walls to witness the horrors set in motion by her flight. When her current and former loves face each other in battle, she knows that, whatever happens, she will be losing.
Theodor Kallifatides provides remarkable psychological insight in his version of The Iliad, downplaying the role of the gods and delving into the mindsets of its mortal heroes. Homer's epic comes to life with a renewed urgency that allows us to experience events as though firsthand, and reveals timeless truths about the senselessness of war and what it means to be human.
This layered retelling of the Trojan War from Kallifatides (Another Life) is filtered through the perspectives of a nurturing schoolteacher and her adoring student during WWII. The setting is a Greek village under attack during the war. The young teacher, identified as "Miss," takes her students into a cave as bombs fall, and diverts them with her version of the Greek myth, which takes up the bulk of the text. Each chapter of the book (and the yarn spinning) is bracketed by a brief passages from the point-of-view of the unnamed 15-year-old narrator, including details about his life outside the cave, his strong friendship with classmate Dimitra, and his infatuation with Miss (when Miss acquired a lover, he's devastated). Miss's version of the myth is florid, violent, and poetic, with memorable psychological depth both Hector and Achilles are complex; Nestor and Patroclus have additional dimension, as well. The central relationship is the deep friendship between Achilles and Patroclus. As Greek resistance falters and the Germans take over the village, the narrator witnesses the violence of war firsthand. Kallifatides's reworking of Homer's epic provides an intriguing take on the human dimension of the myth and strikes a rich, resonant note.