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Pat Barker's THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS - The Cost of War

by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@ashley_dicksonellison)

Book Cover of Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls

I've had Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls ( | on my TBR stack since I first read and fell in love with Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles several years ago, and I'm so glad I finally got to it. I listened to this one on audio, and the narration was excellent. (Jen and I re-read Miller's book and talked about it on a book club episode - such a phenomenal book.)

The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of The Iliad from the perspective of Briseis, a queen of a kingdom near Troy who, after the sacking of her kingdom and murder of her brothers and husband, became enslaved as Achilles's war prize. When King Agamemnon takes Briseis as his own and insults Achilles, that brings about Achilles's decision to refuse to fight in the war, resulting in a mounting death toll and impending failure for the Greeks. It's only after Patroclus's brutal death and Achilles's resulting despair that Achilles at last decides to fight, which turns the tide of the war for the Greeks but costs Achilles his life.

In The Silence of the Girls, we see all of this posturing, greed, and pride of the arrogant men at the center of The Iliad from the perspective of the enslaved women who are viewed as nothing more than mere possessions to the men. We discover the camaraderie of the women and the ways that they find to survive the horrific, devastating circumstances that are part of their daily life in war times.

“We’re going to survive–our songs, our stories. They’ll never be able to forget us. Decades after the last man who fought at Troy is dead, their sons will remember the songs their Trojan mothers sang to them. We’ll be in their dreams–and in their worst nightmares too.”

This is a hard look at the brutal realities of war and the women and slaves who are often overlooked in traditional historical accounts. We see all the ways that the women within the Greek encampments both endure and maintain daily life there with all of its callous brutality and indifference to their position.

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