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Likely Stories : A Thousand Ships, by Natalie Haynes


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Ever since high school, I have carried a secondary obsession with the ancient Greeks and the myriad gods, goddesses, nymphs, and warriors, like Achilles, Ajax, Hector, Paris, Hellen, and, of course, Odysseus.  Natalie Haynes is a writer and broadcaster.  Her latest book is A Thousand Ships¸ detailing the greatest war ever fought until the 1914.


I chose to focus on one of my favorite characters from the Trojan war, Cassandra.  She was pursued by a god and she was given the power to foretell the future as a reward.  When she rejects his offer of love, he curses her and no one will believe her prophecies. 

The story begins.  “The women were waiting, powerless and broken.  What happened after the end of the world?  Polyxena sat at her mother’s feet, absently rubbing her hand up and down her mother’s calf like a small child.  Andromache sat slightly apart from her mother-in-law.  She was not born a Trojan but had married Hector and become one of them.  Her baby nestled beneath her chin, grizzling a little—the noise and panic had disturbed his sleep.  And Cassandra faced the ocean, her mouth moving soundlessly.  She had long since learned to keep quiet, even if she could not halt the stream of words flowing from her lips. // None of the women wept.  The dead husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons were fresh wounds to them all.  They had mourned through the nights and torn their hair and garments.  But the Greek men who guarded them had little time for lamentation.  Polyxena nursed a blackened bruise on her eye socket, and now the women were silent.  Each promised herself and others that they would grieve in solitude when they could.  But all knew that they would never know solitude again.  When a war was ended, the men lost their lives.  But the women lost everything else.  And victory had made the Greeks no kinder.”

Polyxena issued a low, guttural cry, which merged with the chatter of the cormorants and went unheard by their captors.  No matter how hard she tried to suppress her grief, she could not help herself.  ‘Could this have been avoided?’ she asked her mother.  ‘Did Troy have to fall?  Was there no point when we could have been saved?’

Cassandra’s shoulders quivered with the effort of not screaming.  She shook with the force of her desire to shout that she had told them a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand times.  And that none of them had listened, not once, not for a heartbeat.  They didn’t hear, they couldn’t see, and yet she could see nothing but the future, all the time, forever.  Well, not forever.  She could see her own future as clear as she saw everything else.  Its brevity was her one consolation” (33-34).

The story that Natalie Haynes tells of these brave, ferocious, and determined people related the story of one of the greatest wars ever waged.  A Thousand Ships tells of the ten years of war and the ten years Odysseus suffered to return to his wife and son, Penelope and Telemachus.  This is a story you can never forget.  10 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!


Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.