THE LAUREATE: Eyvind Johnson was born to a working class family in the north of Sweden in 1900. He worked mostly odd jobs that gave him a chance to read and write. He was admitted to the Swedish Academy in 1957 and the Swedish Academy awarded him the Nobel prize in literature in 1974, a year in which Vladimir Nabokov, Graham Greene and Jorge Luis Borges were favorites to win.
WHAT I’M READING: Return to Ithaca, a gritty reboot of The Odyssey
REVIEW: I was (eventually) pleasantly surprised. As I think you know by now, I majored in classics in college, where I spent an awful lot of time comparing things to Homer. I know The Odyssey pretty well by now. Return to Ithaca works as a reading of The Odyssey the way that Beowulf movie with the nippleless Angelina Jolie works as a reading of Beowulf: it imports modern anxiety and angst into a work where people did not have the luxury for such things and thereby deepen its emotional resonance. And let me say, this book is gritty like you wouldn’t believe. Odysseus here isn’t the returning hero we expect from Homer; he is clearly an ordinary man who life never gets tired of beating up. You can tell that this was written right after the end of World War II: there is no glory for a man coming home, just blood and unbelievable work. Johnson has a dry, dark sense of humor that only really comes out near the end, which is really unfortunate.
RECOMMENDATION: I did like the book. As far as recent interpretations of The Odyssey go, there are better modernist (Kazantzakis’ The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel) and postmodern (The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason) interpretations. But this was still pretty good. Good luck finding an affordable copy, though. It had one edition in English in 1952
WHAT’S NEXT: Kenzaburo Oe has children murdered for the harvest