Source: Received from publisher Penguin Group for review
“With her father Odysseus gone for twenty years, Xanthe barricades herself in her royal chambers to escape the rapacious suitors who would abduct her to gain the throne. Xanthe turns to her loom to weave the adventures of her life, from her upbringing among servants and slaves, to the years spent in hiding with her mother's cousin, Helen of Troy, to the passion of her sexual awakening in the arms of the man she loves.
And when a stranger dressed as a beggar appears at the palace, Xanthe wonders who will be the one to decide her future-a suitor she loathes, a brother she cannot respect, or a father who doesn't know she exists...”
If you are a fan of The Odyssey you are sure to enjoy the events that transpire in this book. While the struggles of Odysseus to return home to his family following the Battle of Troy are not the focus of this novel – the life of his family at home, and also that of the life of Helen of Troy following the war, are expanded upon. We also learn that after Odysseus set off for war, his wife, Penelope, had a daughter that he never knew about. We explore Xanthe’s life throughout the twenty years that Odysseus is gone and it ends just after he returns home.
Each chapter of the book begins with a description by Xanthe of a part of her weaving that she is working on. Xanthe has decided, while locked away in her bedroom, that she will tell her life’s story through a giant weaving. She explains choices for different colors, techniques, threads, and as you read on in the chapter, you can see how this weaving mirrors her life. It is a very interesting story telling device, although at the beginning of the story it did leave me a little confused.
Xanthe can break down her life into three distinct sections – and the book is broken down the same way – Ithaca, Sparta, Ithaca. The first part, Ithaca, Xanthe is a very young girl. She doesn’t really understand the world that is unfolding around her now that her father has been gone for so long and the politics that are at play. I had some trouble getting into this section – it just felt a little more dry to me than the rest of the book. The second part, Sparta, is Xanthe’s life at the court of Helen of Troy. She was sent there to try an escape The Suitors. Here is where the story really picked up for me. This is where Xanthe really grows up and learns more of her role in life. Then the third part, Ithaca, is her return to Ithaca and the family reunites with Odysseus. It really is a coming of age story for Xanthe.
The author creates a very vivid Greek world. The descriptions of the traditions, coming of age rites and initiations, and worship of the Gods and Goddesses were beautifully rendered and well researched. The characters that were very much marginalized in The Odyssey and even non-existent characters were fully fleshed out in the pages of Penelope’s Daughter. You were really able to see what drove them to the decisions that they made and who they were. One character whose story really blew my mind was Helen of Troy. Xanthe learns a lot about the circumstances surrounding why Helen went to Troy. You also get into the back story of Helen’s life prior to Troy. That was the most interesting and touching part to me.
If you are a fan of The Odyssey or a fan of Greek mythology this is a book that should certainly not be missed. You will not be disappointed by the tale that unfolds and will be completely sucked into the story of Xanthe.
Laurel Corona is also the author of previously released The Four Seasons: A Novel About Vivaldi’s Venice and the anticipated 2011 release Finding Emilie. You can read more about Laurel’s work at her website.
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