Book Review — The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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Madeline Miller has a way with words. Reading The Song of Achilles was like swaying with the waves, the ocean lapping at you and the peace making you one with the environment. It was soothing, inviting and towards the end, a surge of emotions. I hadn’t felt this connected to a book in the longest time and so, was more than eager to get swept up in Patroclus’ narration. Told from his point of view, the novel builds a timeline of events that have seen Patroclus and Achilles together, wrapped in a cocoon of love and support for one another. While we are introduced to Patroclus as a young boy of 9 years age, floundering under his father’s decision to present him as a suitor for Princess Helen, it is much later that he grows into an individual in his own right.

The author delivers the story of Patroclus and Achilles with such beauty, as to absorb us into the book, unable to set it down even for one moment. I was especially convinced of her genius when the scenes pertaining to war and politics, instead of diminishing my interest, furthered my desire to know more of what had transpired. In all its unabashed honesty, Miller depicts the foolishness of humans; the manner in which the pride and prejudice of kings have ushered in their downfall. Bound to the story with ropes of intrigue and awe, I kept wishing that Achilles had had more clarity of thought, allowing him to assess the situation better and take decisions that might have (sort of?) prevented a great deal of mishap. One thing you’re going to have to keep in mind is that this novel mentions a large number of mythological figures, which means atleast a hundred Greek names bouncing off your mind. They weren’t easy for me to remember, particularly the names of the secondary characters. But rest assured, the twenty or so important ones will remain in your memory.

It was a mesmerizing thing indeed to read about Patroclus and how he changes from an ordinary, under-confident lad to one who stands up for people, knows his worth in war and is incredibly courageous. Achilles’ character arc, on the other hand, takes a surprising dip. I like the inclusion of Briseis’ character. She plays a pivotal role in Achilles’ life and brings a new dynamic to Patroclus’ identity. The Song of Achilles is abundant with themes of love, politics, greed, slavery, monarchy to name a few. On the whole, it was such a pleasant experience reading about the eternal nature of Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship. I can’t believe that I put off reading it for so long. Now that I have, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that this has become one of my all time favourites. Highly recommend it to those who enjoy reading mythological fiction. PICK. IT. UP. NOW.

Rating – 5 out of 5 stars (and more!)

What do you get out of this book? An epic story about two epic characters from Greek mythology, with a dash of romance, politics and friendship.

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Book Review — Shikhandi And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik

“In the Veda there is a line ‘vikruti evam prakruti’ which can be translated as ‘all things queer are also part of nature’.” – Devdutt Pattanaik.

In Shikhandi And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You, Devdutt Pattanaik brings to the forefront those tales from Indian mythology that point out our previously comfortable stance towards Queerness. He highlights even the most heard of tale in a way so us to grant us better understanding of how accepting we were at a point of time. Stories range from how Lord Krishna transforms into Mohini to how Mandhata was born of no mother. This book surpasses expectations and then some. It is so rich with characters known and worshiped by people from all over India. What’s more is that after every tale, the author presents a literary analysis from the perspective of Queer Theory. This book couldn’t be more appropriate in keeping with the problems of the present time.

I devoured this book in a day. It was so wholesome and fulfilling, particularly because I have learned literary theory in college. We had an entire section titled “Queer Theory” in the curriculum but for some ludicrous reason it was made “self study” and not discussed in class. Some of the stories in this book are ones that we’ve heard from our families like that of Bhasmasura, Shikhandi, Bhagirath, Ahalya etc whereas many others were new to me. The amount of information in this book is overwhelming in its entirety because there are so many names involved and versions to each story.

After a story, the author discusses the origin of the text, how it differs from place to place and even questions it from the queer perspective. But I couldn’t put it down and had to finish it, so a lot of the names may have flown over my head, nevertheless I can always go back and read random stories again. I’m certain I will. The book opens with two sections that are solely about understanding the Queer with examples from all over the world. It historicizes concepts like lesbianism, cross-dressing, hijras to throw light on their prevalence even in the time of Ram Rajya. This book prods us into questioning popular beliefs and not conforming to the society’s condemnation of anything that is beyond normal. It shows us that if Gods and Goddesses are accepting of gender fluidity or queerness than we shouldn’t be criminalizing and looking down upon those who do not identify with the two categories of male and female. I absolutely loved this book from the very beginning and am glad it remained wonderful till the end. Maybe this book should be incorporated into school and university curriculum. If you are the least bit interested in mythology or LGBTQ stories then please please read this book. It is splendid!

Ratings – 5 stars on 5.

Meera