That Greco-Roman mythology should shape a contemporary novel is hardly unusual, but the way this breathtakingly ambitious work shapes -- and reshapes -- classical mythology is remarkable indeed. Calasso, publisher of the intellectual Milanese house Adelphi, revisits the theogonies set forth by Hesiod, Homer, Ovid et al. and then recasts them for a postmodern audience. Gods and men enact the cosmic mysteries as the narrator comments aphoristically on the progress of ancient and divine history ('With time, men and gods would develop a common language made up of hierogamy and sacrifice.... And, when it became a dead language, people started talking about mythology'). Calasso presents the abduction of Europa by a bull, analyzes the Trojan war, discusses the meaning of the word 'tragedy' and charts the fall of classical Athens. Into this elegant chronology he also interpolates quotations from and allusions to a pantheon of classical writers, in the same weightless manner in which those writers made use of standard formulaic tropes; he extends his territory by planting modern points of reference ('Jason would have preferred to live a bourgeois life at home, just as Nietzsche would have preferred to be a professor in Basel, rather than God'). Readers who don't know their Theseus from their Thyestes shouldn't be discouraged -- Calasso's work bridges the perceived distance from the origins of Western culture.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A reconsideration and recombination of Greek mythology, this scholarly tome -- which is being billed as both fiction and mythology by the publisher -- reaches back extensively through the works of Plutarch, Ovid, Homer, and Plato, to name only a few of the classical writers referenced here. This interweaving of gods and goddesses and of their actions moves back and forth in time, with many comments from Calasso about both the action and its interpretation by scholars. The storytelling style is interesting, but novices of Greek mythology will soon find themselves awash in names and places and activities that are exceedingly difficult to keep straight. An extensive 'family tree' of characters, an index, and even chapter titles, none of which are included, would have served as useful guideposts. -- Olivia Opello, Onondaga County Public Library, Syracuse, New York
Ka is to experience a giddy invasion of stories -- brilliant, enigmatic, troubling, outrageous, erotic, beautiful. . . .Whenever we get tird of worrying away at their meanings, we can always settle doen to listen to the stories they . . .tell. -- The New York Times Book Review
...Calasso's text is an unstable mixture of Indian content and European perspective....[The book] dosn't systematize, organize, or "make clear" mythological structure; it just thrusts us into the stories....At its best, the effort proceeds with a paradoxical combination of boldness and humility. --