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The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker {review}

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker



Review - 4 Stars

“It would have been easier, in many ways, to slip into thinking we were all in this together, equally imprisoned on this narrow strip of land between the sand dunes and the sea; easier, but false. They were men, and free, I was a woman, and a slave. And that’s a chasm no amount of sentimental chit-chat about shared imprisonment should be allowed to obscure.”

The Silence Of The Girls centers the voice of an enslaved 18 year old woman Briseis. We meet her as her city is falling to the Greeks and she watches her husband the king, her brothers, and her father all be killed. And then Achilles chooses her as his prize. 

I remember very little about The Iliad so I can't speak to this as a retelling. But I did find it to be an important, albeit brutal, read. Barker explores the complicated relationship between the Trojan women and their Greek captors. Some women grow to love the men who enslave them, while others hate them and still others fall somewhere in between. 

Barker also doesn't shy away from the violence of this time. Not only do the women have it rough as slaves, the reality of war is unflinchingly awful and too often we gloss over what comes with these conquests. Just as Briseis cannot look away from her life in the camp, we too as readers cannot look away from what she and the other slaves experience and this is necessary, if we are to ever stop repeating the mistakes of the past. Briseis's voice is worth heeding.

Content warning: war, violence, slavery, rape, domestic violence, suicide, human sacrifice, killing children



The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman—Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman—Briseis—watches and waits for the war's outcome. She was queen of one of Troy's neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece's greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles's concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army. 

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position, able to observe the two men driving the Greek army in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate not only of Briseis's people but also of the ancient world at large.

Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war—the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead—all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis's perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker's latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives—and it is nothing short of magnificent.


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