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Gil Marsh

Review

Gil Marsh

First, some background, since I'm guessing not everyone has the Epic of Gilgamesh at the forefront of their minds. I know I didn't when I sat down to read GIL MARSH, A.C.E. Bauer's young adult retelling of this ancient story. The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the world's oldest works of literature, some fragments of which date back to the 18th century B.C. The first half of the story centers on the friendship between the Sumerian king of Uruk, Gilgamesh, and Enkidu, a man created by the gods to be Gilgamesh's equal. The two perform several amazing feats of heroism, but before long, Enkidu has offended the gods, who sentence him to death.

"Despite its surprising setting, Bauer's retelling remains remarkably true to the original's spirit.... [T]he broad outlines of grief, journey and recovery are as immortal and relevant now as they would have been more than 2,000 years ago."

After Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh is distraught. He sets out on a quest to learn the secret of eternal life and thereby be reunited with Enkidu. When he finds the immortal hero, Utnapishtim, who survived a great flood (similar to the biblical account of Noah), Gilgamesh learns that "the eternal life you are seeking, you shall not find. When the gods created mankind, they established death for mankind, and witheld eternal life for themselves." Although Gilgamesh did not find the answer he sought, his journey ultimately made him a better, more successful person.

In GIL MARSH, A.C.E. Bauer updates this epic for the 21st century. Gil is one of the most popular boys in his high school. He is the star of the cross-country team, the  object of all the girls' crushes. When Enko moves to town from Quebec, Gil is at first jealous of this new boy who charms his classmates instantly and who can run at least as well as Gil. But over time, the two become remarkably close, only to have Enko die suddenly from leukemia.

Gil is devastated by Enko's death, and he no longer finds pleasure in the things that used to bring him joy. He decides to head north to Canada in search of the man who made a ring that Enko used to wear --- a ring that he gave to Gil shortly before his death, a ring that supposedly was made by an immortal man. Might this man have the secret to eternal life? Gil's journey through Montreal and the wilds of Quebec is full of as many questions as answers, but maybe he will find a way to bring Enko back. Or perhaps he will find something else entirely.

At first, Bauer's decision to retell the epic of Gilgamesh might seem to be an odd one, but in fact, this ancient story has a long history of being included in popular culture and other retellings, including novels by Philip Roth and Joan London, a song by They Might Be Giants, and several theater works, television shows, and other works of children's literature.

Despite its surprising setting, Bauer's retelling remains remarkably true to the original's spirit. This includes the potentially homoerotic nature of Gilgamesh's relationship with Enkidu, a factor that perhaps doesn't translate quite as well to the suburban high school setting, where Gil and Enko's physical and emotional closeness would likely spark more attention and controversy than it does here. Some of the elements seem forced --- "Uruk" would be an unlikely name for a Connecticut high school, for example --- but the broad outlines of grief, journey and recovery are as immortal and relevant now as they would have been more than 2,000 years ago.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 25, 2012

Gil Marsh
by A.C.E. Bauer

  • Publication Date: February 26, 2013
  • Genres: Fiction, Young Adult 12+
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Ember
  • ISBN-10: 0375873740
  • ISBN-13: 9780375873744