Posted by: Corri van de Stege | November 30, 2013

Tying up some ends: from the Odyssey to cold war and The Riddle of the Sands


Odyssey (Photo credit: tonynetone)

Charlotte Higgins in today’s Guardian presents  a most wonderful review of the Odyssey as a poem that is really about the homecoming of a warrior as another war.  She refers to David Finkel’s Thank you for your Service who writes that for a soldier coming home it really means coming ‘out of one war into another’.  If you have read the Odyssey or are intending to read it, do have a  look at this article (see also link below) as it provides another insight into the stories and also the understanding that ‘there is a recognition of the importance of this – the equality of experience and of pain – among the long-enduring wives in Finkel’s book” because Penelope has suffered as much as Odysseus and has been scarred by the war with Troy, even if in quite a different way.

Meanwhile I am reading ‘Sailing through Byzantium’ by Maureen Freely, an interesting and very gripping take on the cold war; after the recent numerous memorial programmes and articles on Kennedy’s assassination and his role in the cold war, this is a very readable book and relates the experience of a young girl whose bohemian parents take her and her two siblings to Istanbul, partly because the parents have had enough of the stifling atmosphere in America and the witch hunt on communists and non-conformists in the 50’s and early 60’s.   It is a wonderful read and it has had excellent reviews all round.

Last time I referred to the many lists that are coming out here there and everywhere, and one of them is the 100 must read fictions books, which includes Erskine Childers ‘The Riddle of the Sands’.  Being a spy ‘fan’ and also being intrigued by the particular sands referred to in the title of the book, I read it on my kindle and quite enjoyed it.  I say quite, because at times I found all the references to sailing and depths and wind strengths a bit tiresome, but despite this quite enjoyed it.  The sands are of course the sands around the Friesian islands, north of Holland and Germany and going over into Denmark, with its numerous small islands.  It’s quite fun to read about these islands and how Erskine imagines how they might be used in a potential war between Germany and England (this is pre-first world war, with the Kaiser still on the throne in Germany).  The riddle is unravelled by two Englishmen from quite different backgrounds but both experienced sailors.



(The modern ferry from Harlingen (north of Holland) to Terschelling)

Why I am so intrigued by this story around the Dutch and German islands is because as a fifteen year old the parents of a friend of mine used to take us, my friend, her siblings and me as ‘best friend’, camping on one of these islands, Terschelling.  This was a much-loved destination at the time: we used to cycle from somewhere in the middle of Holland all the way up north, our bicycles loaded with gear and the father pulling a small cart with a tent etc (you cannot imagine doing this now!), boarded the ferry and chanter across to Terschelling, where we would mount our bikes ones more and cycle half way the island to a camping place.  And yes, with low water the sands spread out endlessly all the way back to the mainland, and we listened to stories of some people actually walking across (under strict guidance) at specific times when that was possible.  Scary!




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