By Nayisha Patel and Sandhya Christine Theodore
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of The Sign for Home by Blair Fell and A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes.
The Sign for Home by Blair Fell
Blair Fell's The Sign for Home is a fascinating and insightful look at life for a DeafBlind individual. This book delivers an insider's perspective of that existence while wrapping a magnificent story of human rights, agency and love around it. The timing of the book was perfect. It was released shortly after the beautiful film CODA (an abbreviation meaning Child of Deaf Adult), which won multiple other prizes and the Academy Award for best picture, was released.
There is no doubt that you will root for and fall in love with the main character Arlo, just as I did. Arlo has been dealt a bad hand in life, made worse through the guardianship of his strict uncle who is also a Jehovah’s Witness. Arlo's life is fundamentally altered when Cyril, a second interpreter who is not a Jehovah's Witness, enters it. His undergraduate writing professor encourages him to let loose a completely new side of himself as he encounters new individuals and gets exposed to novel ideas. An ensemble of individuals come together in the novel to protect Arlo and his long-lost girlfriend Shri. You will feel everything while reading this book, you will want to scream at the system, and you will be able to believe in the kindness of people.
Along the process, readers will learn about the difficulties of being DeafBlind as well as the dangers of being under the control of someone who is compelled to utilise Arlo as the voice of Jehovah's God. I really appreciated Arlo's quest for knowledge as well as the developing camaraderie and brotherhood among his newfound gang. In alternate chapters, the narrative is told from two different points of view. The plot, which is propelled by Arlo's desire to live his own life as normally as possible, is expertly woven by Fell into educational aspects of living with deafness and blindness and life as a Jehovah’s Witness. I will cherish The Sign For Home forever as an uplifting, passionate love story. I adore novels like these, books that truly get you to reflect and question your preconceptions about how others who don't share your experiences live. To those who enjoy contemporary fiction with a healthy portion of love, laughter and tears, I heartily recommend it.
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
As Natalie Haynes notes in the book’s afterword, female characters in the famous Greek epics were usually in the shadows or on the margins of stories. In her novel, A Thousand Ships, she has “picked up the old stories” and “shaken them until the hidden women appear in plain sight,” she has “celebrated them in song because they have waited long enough.”
A Thousand Ships tells the stories of many women, or “all the women:” nymphs and humans, Greek and Trojan. The cast of characters includes Thetis, the nymph mother of Achilles who was forced to marry a mortal at Zeus’ decree; Oenone, Paris’ abandoned wife who raises their son alone; Penelope, Odysseus’ faithful wife who hears the poets sing about his infidelity; Penthesilea, the respected Amazon warrior; Cassandra, who is cursed to never be believed by a god whose advances she refuses; Iphigenia, the Greek princess sacrificed by her father and Clytemnestra, her mother who kills him to avenge her death. These reframed version of the epics are told by Calliope, the capricious muse of poetry. She tells her stories with the voice of a poet, and intersperses these fragmented stories with her own thoughts and opinions.
Despite being set in a difficult time period and being filled with distressing events, Haynes manages to bring humour to her writing. The chapters told from the perspectives of Calliope and Penelope in particular are witty and sharp. Haynes treats the stories of the women involved in the Trojan War as being just as important and just as heroic (and sometimes more) as those of the men who fought in it. They are written with depth and the lines between victim and aggressor are blurred.
With masterful storytelling, nuanced characters and beautiful writing, Haynes tells the story of all the women whose lives were touched by the Trojan War. Whether you are familiar with the characters and stories of the Iliad and the Odyssey or not, this book is easy to follow and includes a list of all the major characters. A Thousand Ships is a gripping read perfect for fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe, feminist literature, or Greek mythology.