A THOUSAND SHIPS by Natalie Haynes

There are some books that touch me so deeply that, once I read them, I look for them months and years later in some new titles. I’m not really looking for the same story, the same plot, problems, challenges and endings; I’m looking for the same feelings these books gave me. The feeling that I am breathing wider, deeper and freer, that not only ALL of my soul is allowed to say, everything that my mind deals with in its silent loneliness, but that someone did – wrote and reprimanded.

I look for a sense of delight in reading alone – a style that fascinates me. I am looking for the feeling of discovering a gentle new and exotic, a story that will prove to be the perfect lover to my shrewd and unyielding curiosity who does not know the direction he must not go. I’m looking for something nostalgic and melancholy, something that suits my contemplative, solitary nature. But I’m also looking for something sharp and rebellious, something that makes the stubborn ram in me feel admirable. Rams, if you didn’t know, like to admire anything that looks like a raised middle finger to anything that wants to be pro-scripted, rigid, dogmatic.

That’s why for over a year now I’ve been looking for other books in what I’ve been given by, “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles and “Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid; I’m constantly looking for something Ken Follett, J. K. Rowling, Patrick Rothfuss, G.R.R. Martin, Laini Taylor, Katherine Arden, Lois Lowry and many others have given me.

And for a year now I’ve been searching for what Madeline Miller gave me for her memorable, beautiful Circe.

With this book, Natalie Haynes wanted to show us the second face of war; one who also receives blows, one who also irreversibly perishes from fatigue, hunger and tears, one who often has to live even after the light in the broken eyes above him goes out.

Reading the well-known stories of ancient heroes, one would think that wars belonged only to them, that in wars only they suffered, won, lost and perished. And common sense tells us that wars are not fought in a vacuum, they are not waged in open wastelands where there is no one and nothing except the army and the army. Who are those other people who, so to speak, are drawn to war maps against their will, whose destinies take place on the sidelines of someone else’s heroism?

After the battles, the remaining weapons, stolen property, conquered areas are counted and distributed. And nowhere do the lives and deaths and sufferings of women and children add up. As if they were less important than anything the heroes of the war had won …

In telling us the story of the Trojan War, but from the perspective of the women who participated in it or in any way related to it, author Natalie Haynes turns the other cheek towards us, forcing us to take a good look at that ruined tissue.

I loved the first woman I met when I started reading this book. Muse Calliope- the patron saint of speech and epic poetry – is angry with another poet who came to her to pray for inspiration to write about the glory of a brave warrior, wanting to be among those who were remembered for singing the life and death of a hero. A male hero, of course.

Calliope is angry and, in short, tells him – you will either write about women, their strength and courage, their sufferings and losses and sacrifices, their disparaged and completely ignored role in war – or you will not write at all! And what does the “poor” poet do? Anyone who wants to create knows that their muse should not be angry…

Thus, dear reader, you will read about the heartbreaking destinies of wealthy Trojan noble ladies, about old women and girls, about mothers, sisters and complete strangers, about Amazons that are eaten away by guilt, about arrogant and soulless goddesses, about used and abandoned nymphs, about cursed nymphs’ prophets, patient wives forgotten for glory, and betrayed daughters.

But there is one woman you will not read about – and because this time she left her out of the story, I have a special respect for the author. Remember the Trojan War and everything you know about it and everyone you know about it. If we cross all the male names (oh, those heroes), we are left with the only female name we know – the beautiful, very beautiful Helena.

Sometimes it seems like everything we know about the world comes down to the “truths” that come from powerful men and beautiful women? It seems that only what powerful men and beautiful women tell us is actually what we believe … Helena’s fate is almost romantic – a woman so beautiful that many, on the day of her wedding, obliged her husband to defend her if anything happens to her. They did not commit themselves to their own wives or their own children… When it was necessary to declare war on Troy – not to return Helena to her husband, but to avenge her abduction – many men went to war leaving their wives without a husband, their children without a father. It’s all about someone else’s wife. Well, that’s the tragic power of beauty.

Natalie Haynes omits her fate, her story and her voice from this collection. There are stories (and there will be more) that describe the life and destiny of this beautiful woman; it is so easy to be inspired – for a novel or for war – by its appearance. What is there are stories of the lives of all other women who, in the shadow of Helena’s beauty, remain invisible, irrelevant, forgotten.

Narrating the fates of fictional women during and after the Trojan War, Natalie Haynes relentlessly insists that these forgotten, ignored, belittled, written-off stories must be told, even though, as she tells herself at one point in the book, some stories are not left unharmed …

Circe remains the ideal I will look for in all the books I read, but “A Thousand Ships” stuck very closely to it. Without hesitation, I recommend this book to you, and I will soon be embracing her novel, The Children of Jocasta.

6 thoughts on “A THOUSAND SHIPS by Natalie Haynes”

  1. This sounds AMAZING. I love history and historical fiction and this sounds so beautiful. Your post is absolutely lovely and I’m going to check this book out as soon as I can. Xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Totally agree that Circe is the book that all books should be compared to! I’m glad you liked A Thousand Ships as I’ve been wanting to read it. I didn’t know Calliope was a character in it, but now I want to read it more!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s