The oldest stories known to humanity are also some of the most powerful. Over thousands of years, they’ve worked their way into the fabric of culture, with numerous retellings that reflect the values of the present or reveal the biases of the past. The scholar Martin Puchner shows how works such as The Tale of Genji, the very first novel in history, mark major technological and cultural milestones. A popular comic-book series based on the Ramayana, an ancient Hindu epic poem about the divine prince Rama, has helped many kids understand their Indian identity—but also contains portrayals that reinforce certain prejudiced ideals.
A debate surrounding Neil Gaiman’s rendition of Norse myths illustrates how such stories can evolve and be reclaimed over time. Chigozie Obioma uses The Odyssey as inspiration for a modern love story about a farmer’s journey from Nigeria to Cyprus. And Pat Barker fills in gaps in The Iliad’s portrayal of war and its consequences by giving a silent supporting character a voice.
Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas, and ask you for recommendations of what our list left out.
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What We’re Reading
Chigozie Obioma explores the transcontinental sacrifices made for love
“In rendering his protagonist’s journey to Cyprus, and the scene that greets the unknowing Chinonso when he arrives, Obioma recasts Homer’s Odyssey. For both tales’ heroes, ‘mere survival is the most amazing feat of all.’ But where Odysseus thrashed ‘under Poseidon’s blows, gale winds and tons of sea,’ Chinonso is betrayed by his fellow man.”