Top positive review
11 people found this helpful
Erudite and intellectually exhausting.
on 8 December 2001
This is a Very Serious Work, one that cannot be read (or summarized) quickly without doing it an injustice. A newly created, "classical" epic for the first hundred pages, it has larger than life heroes from Greek mythology fighting great, ancient battles in which the survival of a culture is at stake. King Meleager of Kalydon, the lone huntress Atalanta, her dog Aura, and her cousin Meilanion are, with sixty other hunters, trying to conquer a ferocious boar unleashed upon the country by the goddess Artemis. As the other hunters fall prey to jealousies, duplicities, and betrayals, these three alone face the final battle, the outcome of which is never clear.
The rest of the book tells parallel stories from three 20th century time frames, involving modern characters whose lives involve similar battles with "the boar" and what it represents. Solomon Memel, Ruth Lackner, and Jakob Feuerstein are teenage friends in Romania in 1938 when the Russians and, soon afterward, the Nazis, occupy the country, create ghettos, and bring the Holocaust. In 1952, Solomon publishes a poem, "Die Keilerjagd," in which he describes his World War II experiences with partisans in Greece, paralleling the boar hunt of the ancient heroes, as they chase a Nazi field commander through the same mountains in the war's waning days. Some years later, when Sol is 49 and a heroic icon to schoolchildren, Ruth, a successful theater figure, decides to make a film of his poem and experiences, and the accuracy of his poem and memory are challenged publicly. Sol's battles to fill the gaps in his memory and to recall uncertain events represent yet another battle with the boar.
Time is flexible here, filtered through the consciousness of Sol, as memories from all three time periods crowd his life in no particular order, and he recollects one event after another, perhaps imperfectly. Norfolk does not always dot all the I's and cross all the T's as Sol tells his story, requiring the reader to bring his/her own consciousness to the interpretation of events, and, like Sol, to keep an open mind to alternative interpretations. His concern with myths, both ancient and modern, how they are created, what they reveal about human needs, how they reflect reality, and why they are perpetuated give tremendous impact and broad scope to his several stories. The hypnotic, musical cadences and the elaborate, minutely detailed descriptions lend a weightiness appropriate to an epic. The action is intense, the themes are universal, and the scope of the author's vision seems almost limitless. This is a slow, but ultimately rewarding, reading experience, sometimes requiring the reader to fight his/her own battle with the boar.