Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Penelope's Daughter"

Laurel Corona has combined her love of writing and teaching for more than three decades. She has taught at San Diego State University, UCSD, and now at San Diego City College, where she is a humanities professor. She began her career as an author in 1999 with a book on Kenya for Lucent Books. From there, she wrote 17 young adult titles for the same company, and went on to award-winning debuts in fiction and non-fiction books for adults in 2008. The Four Seasons: A Novel Of Vivaldi’s Venice won the 2009 Theodor Geisel Award for Book of the Year from the San Diego Book Awards and has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Until Our Last Breath: A Holocaust Story Of Love And Partisan Resistance won a San Diego Book Award as well as a Christopher Medal.

Corona applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Penelope’s Daughter, and reported the following:
Whenever I think of the flowers blooming in such profusion that day, I see more than how beautiful they were in the fields. I see them in garlands on the heads of the servant girls, and one garland in particular, crowning a scene that is permanently embedded in my mind.

Shortly before we reached the stream, we skirted the edge of a field that had not yet been ploughed. The air was full of the songs of birds and the buzz of insects on the wing. A light breeze sent puffs of air across the grass, shaking it out like a veil of green silk. Melantho and the other young servants picked wild flowers to weave into wreaths for their hair and chains around their necks.

At the stream, we stomped on each piece of fabric in the shallow water and rubbed it against the rocks with such vigor that if cloth were alive we would surely have killed it all. When all the dirt had been dislodged and washed away, each piece was laid out on rocks above the stream to dry. We moved quickly, since the rest of the afternoon was for leisure. One of the carts had carried a meal for us and enough wine to make a celebration. After we had eaten, the only task that remained was to wash what we had been wearing. Except for Eurycleia, who went off on her own for privacy, everyone stripped naked and ran into the water waving our clothes above us.
I’ve done a couple of these tests, Page 69 for The Four Seasons and Page 99 for Until Our Last Breath. For both, honestly, the page wasn’t one I would have chosen, so I opened Penelope's Daughter with trepidation. “Ahh!” I said. “It’s a good one!

This passage captures the sensual qualities I tried to make a standout element in this book. I want readers to imagine the colors, sounds, textures, smells, and every possible sensation that must have been part of the vibrant world of ancient Homeric legends. The scene is upbeat here, but on the next two pages, the story darkens as Xanthe, the heroine, is pained by the growing isolation between herself as a princess and the servants who are her only age mates on the island of Ithaca. Out of loneliness and curiosity, she follows Melantho, one of the servants, into the woods and witnesses a scene she will never forget. Overwhelmed now by a secret she cannot share, she makes her way home with the old servant Eurycleia. When they stop to look out to sea for signs of returning ships, they are stunned to see a Greek warship in the harbor below. The Trojan War is over, but, as readers of the Odyssey know, that will not end the trials for Penelope and her daughter. It will be ten more years before Odysseus washes up on shore and clams his home and family again.

Penelope's Daughter tells the story of the women left behind when the Greeks go off to war. Through the eyes of a daughter born after Odysseus left, one he does not know he has, the reader watches his young bride, Penelope, grow into a magnificent and strong woman, a wily match for the ruthless men who wish to destroy his family and steal his crown. Helen of Sparta (formerly of Troy), Penelope’s cousin, takes in the vulnerable teenage Xanthe to keep her safe from the suitors, and the reader is introduced to the fabulous and sensual world of a woman once renowned for her beauty but now facing middle age with both wisdom and vulnerability. There are 333 pages to Penelope's Daughter. I hope you enjoy them all!
Learn more about the book and author at Laurel Corona's website and diary.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue