CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 27. . . .March 18, 2011
Torn from Troy: (Odyssey of a Slave; Vol 1).
Vancouver, BC: Ronsdale Press, 2011.
199 pp., pbk., $11.95.
Trojan War-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.
Review by Ruth Latta.
As I passed the body... a sprawling, curly haired Trojan soldier with his jaw slashed off, it twitched and heaved to one side. I sprang back as the Ilian guardsman erupted from beneath the corpse. He leapt to his feet and rushed past me, his eyes burning with a manic hatred, his spear levelled at the Greeks behind me.
He didn't even get close. An arrow buzzed through the air toward him, sank in his throat, and shot out the back of his neck, landing with a clatter on the cobbles on the far side of the square. Hands clutching his throat, he gurgled blood for a moment, staggered and collapsed.
Lopex was standing behind the cart, his bow in his hand. I stared, astonished. Maybe the gods could do it, but no mortal I'd ever heard of could shoot an arrow right through a man, even at close range.
Homer's Odyssey has inspired many creative people, from James Joyce, author of Ulysses, to the Coen Brothers, whose film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? presented events from the Odyssey in a Great Depression/country music context. Now, Canadian author Patrick Bowman has used Homer's great work as the background for his novel, Torn from Troy: Odyssey of a Slave.
Torn from Troy covers the start of the return journey of Odysseus (Ulysses) and his men, up to their encounter with the Cyclops. The novel is unique in being told from the point of view of a Trojan. Alexi, age 15, is orphaned by the long war and, after the defeat of Troy, is taken captive as Odysseus's slave. Odysseus is known as "Lopex" (the fox) in this novel, and only at the end does he reveal his real name.
Because Alexi can speak Greek, he translates the orders given to the Trojan slaves aboard Lopex's ship. His knowledge as a healer, learned from his father, makes him useful after the Greeks raid the Cicones. As Alexi gets to know the Greeks better, he realizes that they are ordinary men, not demons. Meanwhile, his skills earn him the respect of his captors, except that of the belligerent Ury, described as "an animal."
Bowman's action-packed novel brings in the key plot points of Homer's epic in a natural way. For instance, in Troy, before the Greek invasion via the Trojan Horse, Alexi sees King Priam's daughter wandering around predicting doom, speaking of "soldiers spilling out," but nothing more specific. Her nickname is "Crazy Cass." Some readers will recognize her as the seer, Cassandra. Later, when Alexi is being taken in captivity to Odysseus's ship, he sees in the harbour the wreckage of a "huge wooden thing, a bull or perhaps a horse."
Aboard the ship, the Trojan captives discuss the causes of the war. Was it really caused because Prince Menelaus of Greece wanted to get his wife Helen back from Prince Paris of Troy? The consensus is that economic issues were paramount. Troy controlled a trade route and took a share of the cargo of any Greek ships that came that way.
The Lotos Eaters' section is presented through Alexi's eyes as a drug trip followed by the agony of withdrawal.
The author smoothly inserts interesting details about ancient Greek customs. For example, we see Odysseus's ship being rowed by 50 oarsmen in perfect synchronization to the tune of a flute. Another example has to do with the tradition of "xenios" or hospitality, a concept that pervaded Greek civilization and was necessary in a society where there were no hotels, monasteries or restaurants. On first entering the Cyclops's cave, Odysseus won't let his hungry men eat the food there, insisting that they wait for the return of the person who lives there (as yet unknown to them.) To partake of his food without asking would be to violate xenios.
As a mature reader, I was amused by the Greek epithets, like: "troglos," "Apollo's gloutos," "kopros," "koprophrages" and "skatophages." Although I don't know Greek, I have heard the words "scat" and a couple that begin with "copro." When one of the Greeks calls Alexi's sister, "Filthy kuna!," and later, when Ury, the villain, refers to the beautiful ladies of Lotos Land as "kunai," I can guess at the English translation. Bowman does not provide a glossary, but I suspect that some teachers and parents would object to these words if they were in English.
The encounter with the Cyclops, which comes at the end of Torn from Troy, necessarily includes violence. In the first seventy pages, however, I counted 10 bloody deaths graphically presented. The cover blurb describes the novel as "gritty and realistic," and the promotional material accompanying the review copy claims that it will "appeal especially to the hard-to-reach teen boy market." Readers in general enjoy fast-paced novels with intrepid characters, but it is to be hoped that most people in any age group are repulsed by gory scenes.
In one violent incident early on, Alexi's elder sister, Mena, appears to have died of a broken neck. Or was she just unconscious? As the Greeks rampage through his house, Alexi can't linger over her body but must escape. His uncertainty is increased by information from another prisoner on the ship. At the end, we see that his quest to know his sister's fate will be the subject of the sequel to Torn from Troy.
Recommended with reservations.
Ruth Latta's most recent book is a collection of short stories, Winter Moon (Ottawa, Baico, 2010).
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