Daniel Mendelsohn’s Memoir-Writing: Rings of Memory by Sophie Vallas

Daniel Mendelsohn’s Memoir-Writing: Rings of Memory by Sophie Vallas

Lexington Studies in Jewish Literature

This volume of eight essays written by French scholars analyzes Daniel Mendelsohn’s first three volumes of nonfiction (The Elusive Embrace, 1999; The Lost, 2006; and An Odyssey, 2017) and includes an illustrated interview (2019) in which Mendelsohn tackles various aspects of his work as a literary and cultural critic, as a professor of classical literature, as a translator, and as a memoirist. The essay discussing The Elusive Embrace (1999) argues that, in addition to offering a subtle reflection on sexual identity and genres, Mendelsohn’s first volume already broadens his topic and patiently weaves links between ancient and present times, feeding his meditation with his knowledge of Greek culture and myths—a natural movement of back and forth which would become his signature. The Lost (2006), his much-acclaimed investigation on six members of his family who died during the period known as the Holocaust by bullets, is analyzed as a close-up on the disappearance of a whole world, the unspeakability of which Mendelsohn addressed through intertwining several languages, linguistic echoes, and biblical references. Finally, Mendelsohn’s recent An Odyssey (2017) is studied as a brilliant musing on teaching Homer’s masterpiece while building up a memoir on his declining father sitting among his students and allowing Homer’s universal questions and lessons to enlighten a father and son’s last journey.

Year first published: 2021

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