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Hardcover The Elusive Embrac: Desire and the Riddle of Identity Book

ISBN: 0375400958

ISBN13: 9780375400957

The Elusive Embrac: Desire and the Riddle of Identity

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Format: Hardcover

Condition: Very Good

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Book Overview

A provocative, profoundly moving literary debut--part personal history, part cultural commentary--that announces a writer of dazzling originality. In an emotionally charged narrative that weaves together past and present, the personal and the scholarly, a young critic and classicist takes us on a search for the meaning of identity--while showing, through remarkably fresh and accessible readings of such classical Greek and Roman writers as Catullus...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Understanding Identity and Desire

Mendelsohn, Daniel. "The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity", Vintage Plume, 2000. Understanding Identity and Desire Amos Lassen I have been accused of gushing over the books I like and quite frankly I cannot help that. But now I mist add Daniel Mendelsohn's "The Elusive Embrace" to my list of gushers. Mendelsohn explores issues of identity, sexuality, fatherhood, family and history in five essays that, in effect, add up to a memoir of the author. Mendelsohn attempts to understand the contradictions of his own life as a gay man and father figure to a friend's son as well as a critic and consumer of gay culture who lives both within and apart from his Jewish family. He attempts to unravel family myths and his book looks at the nature of gay identity and the mythology of family by looking at ancient literatutre. He finds a natural connection between pagan culture and pagan acts and discovers that both Greek mentality and language has a tendency toward bipolar thinking which simply means that any articulated idea invites an opposite interpretation. This, the author states, is the nature of gay identity which rests somewhere between the straight world into which we are all born and the gay world which we choose to live in. This is quite an interesting theory and Mendelsohn's explanation makes a great deal of sense. Mendelsohn looks at the neighborhood in which he grew up and the gay ghetto of Manhhattan where as he says "the desire for love" is in competition for the "love of desire" and a house where a friend's son instructs him in the meaning of fatherhood. He then ventures into an old Jewish cemetery where he finds a family secret that shows the need for storytelling and the invention of myths. Like the ancient Greeks, Mendelsohn gives a new significance to individual experience. The book is divided almost equally between memoir and essays and written in exquisite prose. What he is doing is building his own mythology and he does so beautifully. The book works on many different levels. It is not only a memoir of gay experience; it also speaks to the straight community. It is an engrossing look at self-discovery and his arguments are sound and convincing. It challenged my own feelings and it is the honesty of the author that makes this book so special and it is a rich and intelligent exploration of the human condition. Mendelsohn gives us expressive arguments for his beliefs that, even in disagreement, it is necessary to stop and question. Here is a wonderful and poignant walk through the classics and what it means to be gay and it deeply affects and holds universal appeal. By reading about Mendelsohn's life, the reader reads about his own life.

Masterful and wholly unique

At first I was intimidated by the customer reviews that made mention of the author's use of classical references as I am not classically educated and often find such references pretentious. However, I am happy to report that Mr. Mendelsohn's work is compelling and always easy to follow. "The Elusive Emrace" is equal parts memoir and essay, filled with keen observations and poignant scenes from his life. I was especially moved by those involving his god son Nicholas, and the final sections dealing with ancient family secrets and myths. His prose is beautiful, and his ideas about the duplicity of identity, how we are all many things at once, are succinctly articulated. I highly recommend this book, though I do have one caveat. On page 82 (of the paperback) the author notes that all the happy gay couples he knows have sex outside of their relationsips. He follows this observation with the gross generalization: "This is a fact of gay life." It may be a fact for some gay couples, but certainly not all. It sounds like the author is trying to justify his own suspect promiscuity by proclaiming it to be the norm. I would advise hime to reference his own comments from page 38: "Knowledge may make you aware that the certainties of others are often more convenient than true, allowing those who hold them to live a coherent and sensible life, allowing their choices and their ideologies to make a kind of sense."

An amazing book

I was intrigued by the split in the reviews here: for the most part, readers either loved or hated the book. I found myself unambiguously in the first camp. I devoured the book in two reading sessions, could hardly put it down. For me it is less of a memoir, and more of an incredibly perceptive and thorough contemplation on identity, or rather, on how -inherently- no identities are ever simple and straightforward but always (at least) dual, entangled, complex and evolving. So the book appealed to me intellectually. Reducing the book to its "intellectual content," however, would not do it justice. The ideas are delivered in a language that is so enchanting that it almost intoxicates. Finally, the depth of some of the connections and affections described in the book made the reading of the book a poignant and moving experience.

Lyrical and complex... alas, something NEW!

Book reviewers are too fond of the word "lyrical," and they often overuse it. For this reader, when a book is truly lyrical, it begs to be read aloud. But more than that, it must have rhythm, cadence, a song. Alas, what author Daniel Mendelsohn has done is crafted precisely that: the song of himself.I bought this book in June of 1999, and read it too quickly. I came back to it after the new year, and read it once more. Again, I found myself being gently amazed by the writer's graceful prose, complex insights, and respect for his readers' intelligence.Too often, gay nonfiction tends to be dogmatic, hysterical, uncompromising. "The Elusive Embrace" recognizes that life is a collection of layered and ambiguous realities -- that the answer is not necessarily A or B, but both A and B. At the same time. As a gay man, I'm often conflicted about the dualities (and contradictions) inherent in my life. Many of us are. And what the author succeeds in illustrating is that the real essence -- and difficulty -- of living is not lamenting those, but indeed embracing them.

Works on many different levels

I am intrigued by the wide range of reactions expressed by reviews thus far. Personally, I found this book to be a gem of significant worth. It works on so many different levels - certainly as a memoir of gay experience, but it also has much to say to the heterosexual community. I found myself identifying with many situations, thus yielding a rites of passage perspective that was at once familiar yet totally foreign and thus intriguing. The writing is lyric and evocative, demanding your active involvement and stirring your intellectual juices. Fascinating tidbits from classical literature are just icing on the cake, but they too are presented such that they also catalyze your thoughts and challenge your perceptions. Gay readers may have to allow Mendelsohn some room for poetic license and straight readers will have to suspend their homophobia, but the rewards are well worth the effort. This is a beautiful, passionate, and stimulating narrative that, one can only hope, will be followed by more such efforts from author Daniel Mendelsohn.
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