REVIEW by Jane Fraser

NWR Issue 105

Taking Mesopotamia & The Story of Gilgamesh

by Jenny Lewis & Yiyun Li

Taking Mesopotamia and The Story of Gilgamesh mesh in theme if not in audience, and are united by themes of hubris and empire-building. Yiyun Li’s narrative is aimed to be shared with children by adults, while Lewis’ song-like hybrid collection of poetry and prose-poetry is aimed at adults. Both have the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest piece of written literature in the world, (circa 2,700 BC) as their cohesive glue.

Li has taken the ancient epic (written in cuneiform text on clay tablets in Mesopotamia where it lay undiscovered until brought to light at the end of the nineteenth century) and brought it to life. In this imaginative retelling, her highly acclaimed voice (she has been named by the New Yorker as one of the best US writers under forty) directly addresses children of today. Such is the importance of the messages inscribed in the original epic and in her twenty-first century take on it, that Li makes a plea to her young readers to ensure these stories never die: ‘One day, when you are old enough, would you do me a favour and tell this story to your children?’

This story, like others in the Save the Story series launched in 2013 by Pushkin’s children’s imprint, is a ‘mission in book form’ to save great stories from oblivion by retelling them for a new generation...

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previous review: The Time Regulation Institute
next review: Rhys Davies: A Writer's Life


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