Rachel’s Reads – September 2021
When I was quite small, I stumbled across a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and became absolutely enthralled with the world of Greek mythology. From there, I tore through every anthology about the myths of Ancient Greece that I could get my hands on. Although there isn’t anything supremely unique about Greek mythology, in fact it has much in common with Chinese, Indian, Mayan, African, Russian, Norse, and many other mythologies of other cultures, the energy and passion of the Greek world stayed with me. I was recently reminded of my enduring love for these stories as I have greedily been making my way through Stephen Fry’s Greek Myths series: Mythos, Heroes, and the recently released Troy. I heartily recommend them to anyone whether they are a new introduction or a lover of ancient literature. As Stephen Fry says, “There is absolutely nothing academic or intellectual about Greek mythology: it is addictive, entertaining, approachable, and astonishingly human.”
Based on my interest in the myths and legends of many different cultures, I thought it would be recommend retellings of those ancient stories. The books below have taken characters from the stories and imagined them in different worlds or given voice and perspective to background characters or updated the legend for a new era. They take the familiar and spin in on its head in a way that reminds us of the aching humanity in each of these stories.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
This retelling of The Iliad focuses on Patroclus and Achilles. From the beautiful writing to the phenomenal pacing, Madeline takes this story and makes the divinely touched Achilles a boy in love.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
In this retelling of Mexican folklore, the Mayan god of death sends Casiopea Tun on a harrowing journey to help him reclaim his thrones from his treacherous brother. She travels from the jungles of the Yucatán to Mexico City, and deep into the depths of the Mayan underworld.
Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Babalola
In this wonderful collection of short stories released earlier this year, Bolu retells some of the most beautiful love stories from history and mythology with modern twists. She reimagines myths from Greece, Nigeria, China, Ghana, and other countries in ways that empower the characters.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
This is a quick and powerful read based on the story of Antigone. Isma is a young Muslim woman who is the primary caretaker or her younger twin siblings. As she continues her education in America, one twin begins a clandestine affair, while the other is seduced into radicalization.
The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley
This is a wonderful retelling of the Beowulf myth that centers on the perspective of Grendel’s mother. Corporal Dana Mills is overseas when she is captured and executed. Then, she walks out of the desert six months pregnant and sequesters herself and gives birth to a boy named Gren.
She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore
Based on the creation story of Liberia, this story delves into a country trying to define itself outside of colonial rule and the three supposedly cursed people leading that liberation. Best, Norman and June Day are at the heart of this breathtaking story that encompasses the African diaspora and a new country finding its way.
Damascus Nights by Rafik Schami, translated by Philip Boehm
Based on the Arabian Nights, this story is set in 1959 Damascus. Th famous storyteller, Salim, has mysteriously lost his voice so for seven nights, his seven friends gather to break the spell with their different and unique stories.
Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
This collision of magical history, actual history, revolution, and mythology centers around the tale of Koschei the Deathless in Russian folklore. It tells the tale of Maria Morevna as she transforms throughout the story. It about love and life, and death and despair with a sprinkling of loss and hope along the way.
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