Friday, January 31, 2020

Top ten books about the human cost of war

Maaza Mengiste is a novelist and essayist. She is the author of a new book, The Shadow King, called “a brilliant novel … compulsively readable” by Salman Rushdie. Her debut novel, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, was selected by The Guardian as one of the ten best contemporary African books and named one of the best books of 2010 by the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and other publications.

At the Guardian, Mengiste tagged ten titles that provided her "with a vocabulary to conceive anew what it means to be a soldier, to be a woman, to be in conflict with a force greater than oneself." One book on the list:
The Iliad by Homer

A story about the consequences of aggression and arrogance, about rage and vengeance and fate. In one of the most powerful scenes, the aged Priam, king of Troy, crosses the battle lines to ask Achilles for the body of his son, Hector, whom Achilles has killed. The first time I read the moment when Priam bends to kiss Achilles’ hand, I physically recoiled from that anguished display of love and humility. Achilles cries, seeing in old Priam an image of his own father, who will soon be grieving the loss of his son, too. The scene sets out war’s cycle of grief, revenge and love: these are the energies that raise this from a simple war story into a profound epic.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Iliad also appears on Ani Katz's top ten list of books about toxic masculinity, John Gittings's list of five top books on peace, Becky Ferreira's list of her seven favorite tales of revenge in literature, the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five books on the Olympians, Madeline Miller's list of ten favorite classical works, Bettany Hughes's six best books list, James Anderson Winn's five best list of works of war poetry, and John Mullan's lists of ten of the best funerals in literature and ten of the best examples of ekphrasis. It is one of Karl Marlantes's top ten war stories.

--Marshal Zeringue