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The Memoirs of Helen of Troy    by Amanda Elyot Amazon.com order for
Memoirs of Helen of Troy
by Amanda Elyot
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Three Rivers, 2006 (2005)
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* * *   Reviewed by Lisa Respers France

'Thus, contained within these pages, is the story of my life, as I write it. As I have lived it. It is said that beauty is fading, but memories are lasting. With me, I confess it is the reverse.' Those words begin the tragic story of Helen, princess of Sparta and the most beautiful woman in the world. Written as a manuscript for her estranged daughter Hermione, Helen relays the events of her life starting with her unconventional beginning. As the half mortal daughter of a union between the Greek god Zeus and Leda, the queen of Sparta, Helen enters into a world of turmoil as her conception is the result of an ancient ritual forbidden by Leda's husband and king, Tyndareus. During the goddess ritual, Zeus takes on the form of a giant white swan and mates with Leda, setting the stage for a life of rejection for Helen as Tyndareus cannot forgive his wife's infidelity, despite the fact that Leda only gave in to performing the ritual to end a drought and quiet the complaints of her starving people.

Unable to bear her husband's constant abuse and wrath in addition to being forbidden her rightful place as a priestess of the old ways, Leda commits suicide, leaving her youngest daughter bereft of her only true ally in the house. Helen's elder sister, Clytemnestra, is the apple of Tyndareus' eye and uses her position of power to torment her little sister. Her brothers have affection for her but are unable to recognize the great mind which lies behind her perfect form and face.

On the cusp of womanhood, Helen is abducted by Theseus, king of Athens, who plans to ransom her back to her father. But Helen's passion for her captor and his discovery that Helen is more than just a pretty face spells doom for both their love affair and Helen's future. Ripped from her first love, she is married off to Menelaus and ensnared in a loveless marriage made all the worse by her new husband's devotion to his ruthless brother Agamemnon who is married to Helen's sister and former rival, Clytemnestra.

The novel really takes off when Helen falls in love with the handsome Paris Alexandros of Troy and abandons her husband and children providing her battle hungry brother-in-law the perfect excuse to attack Troy. The author expertly captures the horror of ancient warfare and the isolation Helen suffers at the hands of the majority of Paris' family members and countrymen, who disdain her for bringing war to their land. This hatred for the 'whore of Sparta' is juxtaposed with the passion between Helen and Paris, who are utterly devoted to each other and start a family even while the people of Troy are starving, dying in battle, and victimized by marauders and pestilence.

Author Amanda Elyot (a.k.a. actress and novelist Leslie Carroll) is clearly enthralled by the time period she is writing about and the narration is practically flawless. Helen of Troy leaps from the page, splendidly drawn, and as much a victim of her beauty as she is of her own selfish desires. This is historical fiction at its best, with enough romance and desire thrown in to keep the reader engaged through the calamitous events and the wretched sorrow which results from Helen's love and unfailing belief that it can conquer all.

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