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Book Review - The Silence of the Girls

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Another book from our reading group, this one I managed to finish on time for last week's meeting. It's a retelling of Homer's Iliad from the point of view of Briseis, a Trojan princess who is taken captive by the Greek and given to Achilles.

The book is written in modern language, which I like. English is difficult enough as it is, and reading old language is fine, but I need to know what I'm getting into. So I was glad to see this book didn't require to look in the dictionary every 4-5 words. The story is positively captivating (ha! Sorry. It may not be the most sensitive of puns) and the reason I finished it on time was that I didn't want to put it down.

I haven't read the Iliad. I'm sure that someone who has would be able to provide a much more scholarly analysis of this book. But, in my reading group, almost everyone said they either didn't read it or read it so long ago they can't remember any details. And you don't need to have read the Iliad in order to enjoy this book. At the end of the day, there are no new stories; there are only new ways to tell old stories.

This book is gruesome and gory. There are visceral descriptions of war and slavery and rape. Consider yourself warned. I think it would have been completely dishonest to tell a war story without the gory details because war isn't pretty. It's also a little depressing because there is no real "Happy Ending" for Briseis and her fellow women. They are enslaved women. It would take thousands of years for a woman to be treated as a full person (and we're not entirely there yet), and don't even get me started on modern slavery.

I think diversity in stories is essential. Hearing the same stories from different points of view helps us understand that there are no right answers. We can barely agree on the question. I loved that Pat Baker told the story of Achilles—one of the most powerful people in that world—from the point of view of one of the least powerful people in that world. Although, even as an enslaved enemy woman, Briseis does have some power other women lack as the "favourite" concubine of a powerful warrior. But the contrast is crystal clear.

Bottom line: Gory read, but, as my daughter says, un-put-down-able.


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