Saturday, January 30, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

I’ve read many different takes on the Trojan War story. I don’t know why I’m addicted to it. It’s always painful and tragic. I know what’s going to happen and the outcome never changes. And yet, I keep reading them because the stories are so compelling.

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
is the latest addition. This is a story of the Trojan women. Haynes frames it as the project of Calliope, a muse, who sees that war is more than the endless tale of men sacking cities and showing off their strength. She wants to inspire her poet to focus on the women who suffered equally or more so, whose sacrifices were every bit as great, and who behaved with as much courage or as much perfidy as the men. But rather than focus on one or two women, from pre-war to post-war, Calliope wants the poet to show them all. The tragedy is personal and collective. 

The story is told in vignettes and takes place primarily in the war’s aftermath. The main characters are the well-known Trojans: Hecabe, Andromache, Cassandra, Briseis, etc. A few chapters focus on the goddesses and nymphs. And there are chapters that show the points of view of some of the Greek women. (Penelope’s letters, full of longing, annoyance, and humor are some of my favorite chapters.) 

While most of the stories are familiar, there are some (Theano, Laodamia, Oenone, etc.) that I hadn’t heard of before. They were all moving in different ways.

The writing is beautiful and the scope of the book is impressive. I think this book will be best enjoyed by those who already have a grasp of the basics of the war and some of the main players so that the short stories have the relevant context. But it could also be read as an introduction to the Trojan War, seeing it first from the viewpoint of the women who lived through it and bore the consequences of it.

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