Daniel Mendelsohn longlist author interview
2 October 2017
When eighty-one-year-old Jay Mendelsohn decides to enrol in the undergraduate seminar on The Odyssey that his son Daniel teaches at Bard College, the two find themselves on an adventure as profoundly emotional as it is intellectual. For Jay, a retired research scientist who sees the world through a mathematician’s unforgiving eyes, this return to the classroom is his one last chance to learn about the great literature he’d neglected in his youth and, even more, a final opportunity to understand his son.
But through the sometimes-uncomfortable months that follow, as the two men explore Homer’s great work together first in the classroom, where Jay persistently challenges his son’s interpretations, and then during a surprise-filled Mediterranean journey retracing Odysseus’ legendary voyages it becomes clear that Daniel has much to learn, too: for Jay’s responses to both the text and the travels gradually uncover long-buried secrets that allow the son to understand his difficult father at last. As this intricately woven memoir builds to its wrenching climax, Mendelsohn’s narrative comes to echo The Odyssey itself, with its timeless themes of deception and recognition, marriage and children, the pleasures of travel and the meaning of home.
Daniel Mendelsohn is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. His books include the international bestseller The Lost, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and many other honours; a memoir, The Elusive Embrace, a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year; a translation, with commentary, of the complete poems of C.P. Cavafy, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year; and two collections of essays. He lives in the Hudson Valley of New York.