Despite the fact that I had not managed to read the last several pages before our book club’s meeting time, I was eager to engage in conversation about what I thought were the broader issues of the book: the personal suffering, determination, and heroism of the main characters as they experienced, survived, escaped, and moved on from the horrors of unjust regimes. But the first comment in the group was something like, “I skipped over the political stuff and focused on the personal stories of the characters.” There were many nods of agreement throughout the room. Since I thought the “political” stuff was an essential part of the story I sat back and listened to the focus on love and family. I agreed with those who thought the characters were well-developed, sympathetic, and interesting.


Now I have read on to the end and found myself interested in the “Dear Reader” section and the discussion with Madeline Miller — fascinated with their distinctive processes and emphases. If I were to try in one sentence to summarize what most gripped me about this book it would be the quote on page 330 Where Miller says, “That’s something that I love about your work: the themes of power and injustice. I feel like over and over again you are looking at these systemic injustices and personal injustices, and I think it’s incredibly powerful.”


Today, as the world is trembling in response to the horrific destruction in Ukraine, it’s books like this that shake us with the personal reality of the suffering as well as the frightful potential for the broadening of injustice and hopefully for a growing concern with justice. “Politics” is not the right word. The words are “justice/injustice.” This novel, grounded in fact, has the power to grow our depth-level awareness.


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  1. We – contemporary Americans, that is – really have a hard time with the word “politics.” We hear that word and think it has to mean elections, or the life of nations, or opinions about issues and parties. I wish more people shared the sense that EVERYTHING is political – that everything always has something to do with how we live, and want others to live, and sometimes work at getting or making others live. Justice / injustice, totally – and all the things we mean by that.

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