It's not that often that I pick up a novel and find little that could've been improved in it. This novel of London's is one such.
Joan London's GILGAMESH is an understated and engaging novel of physical and emotional adventure, and the unknowable and invisible bonds that unite some people in life. It is 1937, and seventeen-year-old Edith has lived her whole life on the wild Australian coast on a bit of land her father has tried to tame for years. After her father's death, the land grows harder and harder to maintain; she, along with her mother and sister, soon slip into complacency and solitude. The arrival of her cousin Leopold and his intriguing Armenian friend Aram brings Edith back to life. The two young men, having just returned from an archeological dig in Iraq, challenge her to think about the world beyond southwestern Australia. They fascinate her with tales of the places they've traveled and the worlds they have seen. With Aram, Edith shares a special attraction and, after he and Leopold leave, she finds out that she is pregnant with his child. With new confidence, Edith decides to keep the baby and, after her son Jim is born, the two set off on a journey to find Aram. Her love and longing for Aram, a man she hardly knows in any conventional sense, take Edith and her son from their isolated home to Soviet-ruled Armenia and then to the Middle East before returning to Australia. This journey brings her closer to Leopold and makes her more aware of her own needs and desires. It instills in Jim a sense of Armenian identity, as well as a wanderlust similar to that of Leopold and his father. All of London's characters seem lonely. They come together under often dramatic or dangerous circumstances and then share the ordinary details and events of their lives. Despite the subtext of espionage, war and world affairs, this is a quiet novel as shy as Edith but still as bold. London's subdued tone belays the strong emotions of the characters, the urgency of Edith's need to find Aram and the drama of the story. The loneliness of the characters manifests in passionate relationships and these relationships compose much of the novel. Edith's restlessness drives the plot, but the friendship and adventures of Aram and Leopold underscore the action. Their relationship parallels that of the mythical Gilgamesh and Enkidu. But by the end of the novel, Edith, Leopold and Jim are all like Gilgamesh, living life as best they can in the absence of Aram, their Enkidu. When he grows up, Jack becomes a figure like Edith, journeying far, with the assistance of Leopold, to search out the legacy of Aram. The pace of GILGAMESH is slow, sometimes drowsy, but the novel is well written, a uniquely told yet classically understood take on the themes of friendship, longing and journeying. While no knowledge of the myth of Gilgamesh is required to understand, appreciate or enjoy the novel, it would certainly enhance the reading. Spinning from a myth of universal themes, London has created a novel just as evocative and universal. Like Gilgamesh, Edith must leave home, test herself, love and lose much in order to learn her true strength and worth. Like Gilgamesh, she comes home weary and wise. And the reader, invested in the brutally real lives of Edith and Jim, gains much from this emotional and honest tale. --- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman • Click here now to buy this book from Amazon.
Causes Bob Mustin Supports
Native American culture. Education. Creative writing.