Ransom by David Malouf

This short novel tells the story of Achilles and Priam, zooming in on their evening together with short descriptions of the events leading up to their truce (Hector’s death) and following (Achilles’s and Priam’s deaths).  It’s a beautiful story that captures the uniqueness of the moment:  a king walks into danger to beg from his son’s murderer.  A hero weeps and embraces the enemy king.  I loved these characters before, and I love them even more after reading Ransom.  

The reason Achilles and Priam can do the unthinkable – pardon in the midst of war – is what Malouf tries to understand.  The answer comes when we strip away everything that makes them famous and instead treat both men as…men.  Both are grieving the death of someone they loved, and both know that they too will soon die.  While Achilles’s tries not to think much about his foretold death, Priam’s aged body is constantly at the forefront of his mind, and he knows that if he survives the seige of Troy, he will still die soon.  Yet instead of throwing Priam into self-pity or fear, he embraces this inevitability and uses the knowledge as fuel to sneak into Achilles’s camp.  It seems wrong to say this of such a poetic book, but there’s definitely an element of “YOLO” at play in Priam’s actions.

I loved Ransom.  It’s a beautiful story of men (and some great moments with Hecuba) being human in the midst of a heroic war that will be considered epic.

ransomBook Jacket

In his first novel in more than a decade, David Malouf – arguably Australia’s greatest living writer – gives us a stirring reimagination of one of the most famous passages in all of literature: Achilles’ rageful slaughter and desecration of Hector, and Priam’s attempt to ransom his son’s body in Homer’s The Iliad.

A moving novel of suffering, sorrow and redemption, Ransom tells the story of the relationship between two grieving men at war: fierce Achilles, who has lost his beloved Patroclus in the siege of Troy; and woeful Priam, whose son Hector killed Patroclus and was in turn savaged by Achilles.  Each man’s grief must confront the other’s for surcease and resolution: a resolution more compelling to both than the demands of war.  For when the wizened father and the vicious murderer of his son meet, “the past and present blend, enemies exchange places, hatred turns to understanding, youth pities age mourning youth.”

Ransom is a tour de force, incandescent in its delicate and powerful lyricism and its unstated imperative that we imagine our lives in the glow of fellow feeling.

Release Date: 2009

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