Ransom, By David Malouf

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The Independent Culture

This superb novel goes by in a heartbeat, so smooth and engrossing is David Malouf's prose. His subject is the encounter between the Greeks' greatest warrior, Achilles, and the Trojan King Priam, during the Trojan war.

The aged king decides to travel humbly by cart and mule to ask for the body of his son, Hector, from the very man who killed him and mutilated the corpse. Priam understands that by taking this chance with Achilles, what he wants to do is new: great kings do not beg, and they do not travel, unarmed, by mule. But he will change the narrative of this war by his action, and narrative itself is crucial to Malouf, who wants to celebrate the human need to tell stories in the midst of horror and suffering.

Ingeniously, Malouf also gives a part to Priam's carter, Somax, a country farmer and a father who, like Priam, has lost sons. He shows Priam the occasional dignity of a hard life. It is a touching tale, full of pain, but rendered beautiful by Malouf's humanity.