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The Lost Books of the Odyssey: A Novel [Paperback]

Zachary Mason
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Jan. 4 2011

A New York Times Bestseller
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

Zachary Mason’s brilliant and beguiling debut novel reimagines Homer’s classic story of the hero Odysseus and his long journey home after the fall of Troy. With hypnotic prose, terrific imagination, and dazzling literary skill, Mason creates alternative episodes, fragments, and revisions of Homer’s original that, taken together, open up this classic Greek myth to endless reverberating interpretations. The Lost Books of the Odyssey is punctuated with great wit, beauty, and playfulness; it is a daring literary page-turner that marks the emergence of an extraordinary new talent.


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“[A] dazzling debut . . . Stunning and hypnotic . . . Mr. Mason . . . has written a series of jazzy, post-modernist variations on the Odyssey, and in doing so he’s created an ingeniously Borgesian novel that’s witty, playful, moving and tirelessly inventive . . . This is a book that not only addresses the themes of Homer’s classic—the dangers of pride, the protean nature of identity, the tryst between fate and free will—but also poses new questions to the reader about art and originality and the nature of storytelling.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Zachary Mason has achieved something remarkable. He’s written a first novel that is not just vibrantly original but also an insightful commentary on Homer’s epic and its lasting hold on our imagination.” —John Swansburg, Slate.com

“Mason has a big heart beneath all his narrative trickery, and he uses it to bring a contemporary sensitivity to the myths.” —Jeremy McCarter, Newsweek

“Jubilant in execution. Perverse and irreverent.” —Katherine A. Powers, The Boston Globe

“Mason’s prose is finely wrought....His imagination soars and his language delights.” —Adam Mansbach, The New York Times Book Review

“Clever, compelling, and often poignant...Mason’s puckishly archaic diction, a wiseacre’s revision of Richmond Lattimore with swing and jazz, is such a pleasure.” —Jesse Berrett, San Francisco Chronicle

“Marvelous...The stories’ wonderful variety reflects the cunning, resourceful character of Odysseus himself.” —Timothy Farrington, The Wall Street Journal

“An absolute delight.” —Alan Cheuse, NPR’s All Things Considered

“[The Lost Books of the Odyssey] is, to my surprise, a wonderful book. I had expected it to be rather preening, and probably thin. But it is intelligent, absorbing, wonderfully written, and perhaps the most revelatory and brilliant prose encounter with Homer since James Joyce.” —Simon Goldhill, The Times Literary Supplement

“A subtle, inventive, and moving meditation on the nature of story and what Louis MacNeice calls ‘the drunkenness of things being various.’ ” —John Banville, Booker Prize–winning author of The Sea

“Spellbinding. In his versions of these ancient myths, Mason twists and jinks, renegotiating the journey to Ithaca with all the guile and trickery of Odysseus himself. Rarely is it so reassuring to be in the hands of such an unreliable narrator.” —Simon Armitage, author of The Odyssey: A Dramatic Retelling of Homer’s Epic

“A stirring revelation: Zachary Mason’s astounding glosses of the Odyssey plunge us into an unforeseeable and hypnotic dimension of fiction. Of the three possible interpretations of the work that he proposes—Homeric stories anciently reproduced by recombining their components, a Theosophist dream of abstract mathematics, and pure illusion (that is, it was all made up by him)—the result is one and the same. This enthralling book is his doing, whether as translator, conjuror, or author. I vote for number three.” —Harry Mathews, author of My Life in CIA

“Mason’s delightful, inventive collection takes the raw materials of Homer—wily Odysseus, faithful Penelope, wrathful Poseidon—and then recombines, warps and twists elements of his well-worn tale.” —Philadelphia City Paper

“Mason’s fantastic first novel, a deft reimagining of Homer’s Odyssey, begins with the story as we know it before altering the perspective or fate of the characters in subsequent short story–like chapters . . . This original work consistently surprises and delights.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“These imaginary lost books of The Odyssey enhance Homer’s epic tale with alternative scenarios and viewpoints. A finalist this year for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, Mason employs clear, crisp prose and a clever sense of humor to propel the action briskly . . . A paean to the power of storytelling.” —Library Journal

“Though none of these brilliantly conceived revisions fits neatly into Homer’s classic poem, each resonates with something of the artistic vigor of the ancient original . . . A daring and successful experiment in fictional technique.” —Booklist

“[A] literary adventure in which everything—the hero, the author, even the reader—is up for grabs . . . The epic as kaleidoscope.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Reading Zachary Mason’s forthcoming The Lost Books of the Odyssey, I’ve been in danger of missing my subway stop . . . Funny, spooky, action-packed, philosophical—the mood keeps shifting, and you keep wanting to read just one more.” —Barnes and Noble Review

About the Author

ZACHARY MASON is a computer scientist specializing in artificial intelligence. He was a finalist for the 2008 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. He lives in California.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Homer (Revisited) March 9 2011
Format:Paperback
You have to admire the hubris of Mr. Mason.

He has produced a book that's a kind of companion volume to Homer's ODYSSEY, one of the treasures of world literature. Composed of a series of tales and apocryphal fragments, THE LOST BOOKS OF THE ODYSSEY maintains the spirit of the original, expanding on some of the incidents and characters in ODYSSEY to the extent that, I believe, we come away with a renewed appreciation and fresh understanding of Homer's magnificent epic.

I am an enormous fan of Robert Fagles' peerless translations of ODYSSEY and ILIAD and was, frankly, dubious that Mason had any hope of achieving his artistic aims. I'm pleased to report I was wrong. LOST BOOKS is a remarkable achievement and this author, young as he is, is a major new talent on the literary scene.

Watch out for him, he's going to be something.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  63 reviews
97 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly Visceral Feb. 29 2008
By Cordelia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
When the author gave his first reading of this book in New York he spoke about the book in clinical terms; its use of mathematical principles, the book as a study of recursion. But this book could not be less clinical. Though the tale is told in vignettes, each offers a different window into a sliver of the human condition with all its pain and drama and the emotions that motivate a human life.

A beautiful treatment not just of Odysseus, but also of Homer's other characters, the novel fleshes out these iconic figures so that they can be touched and tasted and felt.

In the Jewish tradition there is the idea of writing midrash -- stories that explain the tales from the bible by filling in the human connections between the lines. Mr. Mason has succeeded in writing very believable midrash on the Homeric epics which illuminate the text by giving us further angles by which to view.
48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting debut breathes new life into the classics Dec 5 2007
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was privileged to see an early draft of Zachary Mason's Lost Books of the Odyssey, and I am delighted that this multi-talented young writer / scientist / athlete has found a publisher for the full, prize-winnning version. Fans of Jorge Luis Borges will find much to savor here, as will devotees of Neil Gaiman: Mason effortlessly blends the intricately imagined settings of the former with the pensive chill of the latter, to fresh and sometimes startling effect. I'll skip the hyperbole and superlatives that surround every notable fiction debut nowadays, and suggest that if you are a fan of the original, are hungry for skillful, soulful writing, or just looking for a good read, buy the Lost Books.
44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I saw myself how my wit exceeded that of other men..." Jan. 27 2010
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Unlike the Odyssey translations by poets Robert Fitzgerald and Richmond Lattimore, Zachary Mason's newly published version of The Odyssey takes a post-modernist approach--casual, playful, earthy, and even scatological. Using the traditional story of the Odyssey as his starting point, Mason gives his own take on various episodes from that epic, jumping around in time and place, changing major aspects of the story, adding new episodes, and providing unique points of view. Odysseus is not an epic hero here. Rather, he is an often arrogant man who loves killing, often acts cruelly, and even makes mistakes, a real man whom Athena abandons for part of the narrative.

In Mason's version of this epic, the story lines change. Odysseus himself vies for the hand of Helen and has some success in winning her. After the death of Achilles, Odysseus creates a golem of Achilles out of clay so that Achilles can keep fighting. He tells the tale of Polyphemus, the giant, from Polyphemus's point of view, that of a peaceful farmer who offers hospitality to the men whom he finds occupying his cave when he returns home, and the payment they give him. Mason gives several different accounts of Odysseus's return home (choose your favorite)-in one, Penelope is a "shade," a ghostly presence whom he cannot touch. In another, she has given up waiting for him and found another husband. At other times, she is described as still bedeviled by the suitors. In yet another, Odysseus returns to find his entire city abandoned.

Even Homer himself appears in this novel, lying in a hammock and dreaming of discovering a great book. Odysseus, on the other hand, actually finds a copy of the Iliad, written by the gods before the Trojan War, in Agamemnon's cabin on the ship. Gods and goddesses flit in and out, take the appearance of humans, play tricks, and have love affairs. Tightrope walkers, Alexander the Great, and even the doctors and nurses of a sanatorium appear and disappear.

Though some reviewers say that knowledge of the "real" Odyssey is not a prerequisite to the enjoyment of this book, all the humor depends on that knowledge. The ironies, absurdities, twists and turns, and shifts in point of view need the context of the original epic to have any meaning for the reader. Lovers of postmodern fiction, with its abandonment of boundaries and its open, free-for-all attitudes will find much to love in this novel, which looks at the Odyssey through a new lens. Mary Whipple
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rare Find Feb. 21 2008
By Cora Stryker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
For those of us who come to novels expecting something more than a novel, who want graceful prose and intellectual rigor, who want to come away feeling as though we've discovered a world that is new and yet reminds us of the fictional worlds we love best, for those of us who are nearly always disappointed, Zachary Mason's Lost Books is an exception.

His sentences are lithe and muscular, and his project is large -- he will make you return to the Odyssey to be sure you haven't remembered it incorrectly, and, perhaps most astonishingly, he will change the way you remember the Odyssey.

I have long believed that, in Eliot's words, "a new work of art ... is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it," but it's been a long time since I watched a contemporary author do this with such grace. In addition to its austere, sometimes poetic beauty, in addition to the play with text and form and time, Lost Books is that rare synthesis of big ideas and small, gorgeous moments.

Put Lost Books on the shelf beside Borges, Calvino and Homer. It merits rereading and rereading.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful classic, a must-have for readers of many levels Dec 5 2007
By L. Harbinger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I got this book in the mail a couple of days ago and just finished it today. I recommend it to all readers! Amazon doesn't have the full description and reviews of the book, which I found on the publisher's websites: <[...]> and <[...]>. I generally find back cover reviews to be overstatements, but in the case of Mason's The Lost Books, "elegantly written, frequently beautiful" seems almost an understatement.

The Lost Books consists of 46 chapters plus an introduction and an appendix. Each chapter is a complete short story in itself, and together they form a much more complicated story or set of stories. I'm not yet at the level to fully appreciate all of the hidden literary references and theories of artificial intelligence the author allegedly employs (as mentioned in the summary at one of the above websites), but the sheer beauty of the language made the book a delightful and thoughtful read. Even if you're not a fan of Nabokov, Borges, etc., you'll still like the book if you, like me, simply enjoy beautifully written short stories with lingering aftertastes---a word, a thought, an emotion, an image, a puzzle, or a revelation... The chapters rarely exceeds 10 pages, and many are no longer than 1 or 2 paragraphs. A few of my favorite stories include: The Other Assassin, Epiphany, Ocean's Disc, The Book of Winter, Decrement, Penelopy's Elegy, and Fox. I look forward to reading it again (perhaps many more times) for new discoveries.

This book is a rare combination of disciplined perfection and unbound imagination.
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