Systematic Student + story


Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli is a retelling of The Little Mermaid that ties in the Sirens from Greek Mythology. It is, without a doubt, my favorite of all the Napoli retellings I am familiar with. In this story, Sirena is a mermaid and a siren. All sirens have the opportunity to earn immortality, but they must know the love of a human man. And so, they sing, luring sailors with their enchanting voices to their deaths, desperate to find a man to love them. But Sirena cannot live like this. She does not like the death and the killing and so she leaves her siren sisters and lives on an island alone. Until the day a man is left for dead on the beach of her island and she decides to save him.

Sirena may not agree with the way her sister sirens lure men to their doom, hoping to earn their immortality, but she does crave that give of eternal life. But she refuses to seduce a man with he songs into forgetting what and who she is. When Philoctetes is abandoned on her island, she knowingly risks the wrath of Hera to save his life. She is drawn to him, and as she cares for him, trying to heal him, they form a bond and become friends. She hopes that they might fall in love, but wants that love to be real, to be pure, untainted by her siren's song.

This story reads like a fairy tale combined with a Greek Tragedy and it is all the more magical for it. Napoli pulls darker elements into this tale, as she does with all her stories and no where do her intricate and unique combinations work better than here. The Greek Gods are a vengeful lot, unforgiving of mortals and those who interfere in their dealings with mortals. Hera sent the serpent that bit Philoctetes, the bite that would have killed him, if Sirena had not interfered. For a long while, it would seem that the Goddess would overlook this infraction, overlook this insult, but all too soon, the consequences of interfering with the punishments of the Gods are manifest. And those consequences are all the more painful, more damaging and hopeless because it they are not catastrophic tragedies. They are small slights and refusals that eventually might destroy them.

Sirena is a story that catches at you. It's been a while since I read this book, although I did reread much of it to prepare for this review, but a lot of the story stuck with me. And what I didn't remember came back clearly and vividly as I began to reread the story. We are privy to Sirena's thoughts and so we are able to feel her indecision, share her hesitation and her heartache and accept that which can have no other outcome. If you only ever read one Donna Jo Napoli story or one retelling of The Little Mermaid, please, make it this one.

dream, re-read, and more:

Sirena + story