“The novel is the epic of a world deserted by the gods.”
It is this statement by Lukács that inspired Alessandro Baricco, the bestselling author of Without Blood and Silk, to make the great Homeric poem of the Trojan War contemporary. By stripping away the skirmishing, the whimsicality, and the petty meddling of Zeus and the other gods, Baricco transforms a story that has haunted Western cultures for thousands of years. It is surprisingly accessible.
In an attempt to create a story less archaic than the original, Baricco writes in a living language, setting a pace we are used to, but sacrificing none of the richness. He also makes the narrative subjective, telling the story of the siege of Troy through the voices of 21 Homeric characters.
While the novel has a flavour of ancient texts, what comes across most poignantly is the human quality of the heroes. These are men drawn to the honour of war and women whose fate resides in the balance. And yet, as Baricco points out, the leaders seek peace, embarking on drawn out negotiations and agreements as a way to end the bloodshed. They are despondent over the loss of human life.
Baricco’s retelling underscores the condemnation of war threaded through a narrative that seems to glorify combat. What is most enthralling, and what Baricco is determined to retain, is that the story of The Iliad is told by conquerors with a surprising compassion for the motivations and experience of the conquered, something today’s leaders would do well to follow.
An Iliad: A Story of War, Alessandro Baricco, Text Publishing, $22.95
Review first published in The Courier-Mail in 2008.