April 20, 2014 | Rome, Italy | Sunny 17°C
Search the archives:
Bios & Memoirs


Red Harvest

"Red Harvest," Dashiell Hammett's first Continental Op novel, is a bloody homage to gangland America.

The Heart of a Dog

In 1925, Mikhail Bulgakov riffed off a botched operation to slice into communism.

Doctor Glas

Hjalmer Söderberg's sinister story is an early and superb example of psychoanalytic literature.

The Encyclopedia of the Dead

Danilo Kiš, a Balkan Jorge Luis Borges, traded in superstition and arcana.

The Book of Disquiet

Mystical, erudite, sad, self-effacing, wise — Fernando Pessoa's "confession" is all those things.


For Polish novelist Witold Gombrowicz, the universe counts dead cats and onanism.

On Such A Full Sea

In a clear warning about Chinese ambitions, novelist Chang-Rae Lee turns to future shock.

Silence Once Begun

Underrated Jesse Ball again enters territory few American novelists venture into.

The Great Fire

For Shirley Hazzard, mid-20th century fires raged both in both world and heart.

Break it Down

Lydia Davis' early stories demonstrate an uncanny gift for "real-time" subversion.

War Music
By Christopher Logue
Faber and Faber, 2001. 240 pages

For three decades, the late British poet and writer Christopher Logue (1926-2011) chipped away at "War Music," his idiosyncratic translation (a rendering, really) of Homer's "Iliad." Five installments were published beginning in 1981.

Translators can sulk and swear all they want that Logue knew no Greek, that he takes vast idiomatic liberties. Yet they fail to see the upside, namely the remarkable adding of electricity and hydraulics to an ancient tune by an accomplished modern poet.

Logue burrows into Homer's violent, macho domain and emerges with an alarmingly beautiful concert of jazzy riffs. Each volume stands on its own, but "All Day Permanent Red," an account of the early battle scenes between Hector and the opposing Greeks, best elicits the battlefield's "in flagrante" chaos as seen from a director's crane, complete with cast instructions. "Slip into the fighting. Into the low-sky site crammed with huge men/Half-naked men, brave, loyal, fit, slab-sided men... Leaping into each other like wolves. ... Thumping their chests: 'I am full of the god!'"

And of the climactic Greek attack: "And here it comes: That unpremeditated joy as you — The Uzi shuddering warm against your hip/Happy danger in a dangerous place." It is not the misfit Uzi that catches the eye and changes the pace, but the perfect noun-become-verb notion of "happying" danger. Later: "Blood? Blood like a carwash."

This is most literally war music, an onslaught of armed egos, and Logue's work is Herculean. The five mostly slim volumes (not all in print, regrettably) are "War Music: an account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad" (1981), "Kings" (1992), "The Husbands" (1994), "All Day Permanent Red" (2004), and "Cold Calls" (2005). The ensemble is among the greatest little-known poetic accomplishments of a 20th-century rich in poets, poems and riffs on the ancient. Some of Logue's Homeric interpretations are still read aloud on stage.

The eclectic Logue — ironically a committed pacifist — was not without a sense of humor. He once wrote pornography under the name Count Palmiro Vicarion.

Reviewed by Book Staff
Everything you need to know about visiting or moving to Tuscany, Italy.