I will be covering all aspects of the book this review of In Search of a Homeland. Trojan prince, Aeneas, had survived the Trojan War but Troy had been destroyed. He took up his remaining men, carried his father and led his young son to his ships, to seek out the land his mother, Venus, had in mind for him. The original Aeneid tells the story of this journey across the seas to eventually land in Italy. It was here that Aeneas has been told he had a glorious future by the gods. And so it was, that Aeneas become one of the ancestors to the Romans. In Search of a Homeland was written by well-known writer Penelope Lively and was published in 2001. It is a larger than normal sized novel (in physical size) and consists of 120 pages.
Penelope Lively’s Text
In Search of a Homeland is a well written retelling of the Aeneid. Despite its comparatively short length, it contains many of the scenes found in the original. However, it also leaves out some of the best scenes, which also contain some of Virgil’s best writing. An example is the scene where Aeneas imagines he sees the ghost of Dido when he visits the underworld. Lively may have felt that this was too ‘adult’ a theme for a children’s book and consequently chose to leave it out. Contrarily, she chooses to include the suicide of Dido, not just in the writing but also with a large illustration of Dido’s last moments atop Aeneas’ sword!
All things considered, though, In Search of a Homeland is a very readable interpretation of the Aeneid. Lively is mainly successful in evoking the high drama of the mythical ancient writings of Virgil. It is mostly easy to follow, despite the sometimes challenging vocabulary and a confusing array of names. However, it lacks the clever use of literary devices which are smattered throughout the original text.
Ian Andrew’s Illustrations
It is difficult not to compare this book to Rosemary Sutcliff’s rewrites of the Odyssey and the Iliad. I think the physical size of the book is an attempt at replicating Sutcliff’s Black Ships Before Dawn and The Wanderings of Odysseus. A good thing perhaps, when you consider the dramatic, vivid illustrations which accompany these Greek retellings. Ian Andrew, Lively’s illustrator does a fair job at this. However, his choice of colouring in pencils and the uni directional strokes employed render many of his drawings flat and without detail:
Fortunately there is the odd illustration which contains enough detail to be strikingly beautiful. Naturally, these help bring the story alive, offering vivid visual prompts to the story:
Personally, I was not keen on most of the drawings, but when Andrew’s got it right, he did so with much style:
In Search of a Homeland Book Review: Optional Extras
At the back of the book, there is a wonderful map which can be used alongside the reading to give the children an idea of where Aeneas is on his travels:
If I had my time again, I would perhaps photocopy the map for my girls to look at whilst I read out loud. Another useful sheet is the list of correct pronunciations, also at the back of the book. This would have been so useful to know about! I found pronouncing the names one of the most difficult things about reading this book out loud. I faltered often, and almost certainly read the names incorrectly. Again, it would have been useful to have this list to the side as I was reading the book to have helped with the flow.
Do I recommend this book?
Yes, of course I do! Sat next to Rosemary Sutcliff’s books, this book may fall a little short. And because this book sits comfortably with Sutcliff’s as part of a triad, it is difficult not to compare them directly. However, taken alone, without any comparison, you get a well-written, easy to read, interesting book with some lovely illustrations. Well worth a read, and a perfect addition to any homeschool library.