Dinaw Mengestu, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007)

“Dinaw Mengestu belongs to that special group of American voices produced by global upheavals and intentional, if sometimes forced, migrations. These are the writer-immigrants coming here from Africa, East India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Their struggles for identity mark a new turn within the ranks of American writers I like to call ‘the in-betweeners.’ The most interesting work in American literature has often been done by such writers, their liminality and luminosity in American culture produced by changing national definitions (Twain, Kerouac, Ginsberg), by being the children of immigrants themselves (Bellow, Singer), by voluntary exile (Baldwin, Hemingway) and by trauma (Bambara, Morrison).

[. . .]

“Judith, a white woman who moves into the predominantly black Logan Circle, becomes Sepha’s Beatrice, and, as with Dante, she leads him from his exile to purgatory and, eventually, to redemption. They meet over the counter in Sepha’s store, which is where all the community eventually comes together – to buy, to hang out, to shoplift, to receive and pass along gossip. Sepha’s relationship with Judith is facilitated by the wonderful connection he has to Judith’s precocious daughter, Naomi. And like Dante and Beatrice, they have a love that remains fraught and unconsummated but powerful and transformative nonetheless. Part of the difficulty is that Judith represents the new wave of gentrification and Sepha’s decision to date her is seen as an act of betrayal by the other residents. Neighborhood tensions build because of Judith (since she symbolizes the oppressor), and her home is firebombed by local thugs. Sepha’s own redemption and the choice he makes in this matter are what shape his new self.”   –Chris Abani, “Dante, Beatrice in a narrative of immigration,” The Baltimore Sun (March 11, 2007)

Contributed by Francesco Ciabattoni (Georgetown University)

Adoyo, Rain: A Song for All and None (2020)

Adoyo’s Rain: A Song for All and None is a genre-crossing novel published by Zamani Chronicles in 2020. Rain is at the same time the oral history of several generations of a fictional Kenyan family, centered on Maya, a Dream Walker—endowed with a clairvoyance that grants Dreamers a cross-temporal empathic vision of human history—and an incisive interrogation of the history of colonial conquest in Africa. In the “Afterword” Adoyo (a scholar and teacher of Dante) describes the relationship of the novel’s relationship to the Divine Comedy:

“And each of the multitude voices and stories flowing into Rain is a vital tributary to a dynamic polyphony that explores and illuminates the conflict between sanitized histories of colonialist aggression and the unvarnished accounts of their savagery. It will not surprise readers familiar with the voice of Dante Alighieri’s Commedia that the Great Poet’s most important animating influence in Rain is the way it emboldens this story to draw back the veil of recorded History and bear witness, with an unflinching and conscientious gaze, to the brutality of the agents of colonial dominion — figures celebrated for the Age of Discovery whose incursions wreaked unconscionable horrors on peoples around the world for Coin in the name of Church and Crown and set the precedent for presumptuous appropriations like the Scramble for Africa centuries later. The poetic voice of Dante artifex also permeates the comprehensive structure of Rain, from its general architecture to the network of internal memory manifest in the story’s narrative refrains, as well as the musical rhythm and flow of the storyteller’s language. The most dulcet tones of Dante’s voice resonate deeply in the contemplative strains of Rain devoted to singing the unspoiled beauty of Nature in the bounty of Africa’s expansive savanna grasslands, gleaming equatorial mountain glaciers, opulent Rift Valley, cascading waters and wending rivers, and shimmering Great Lakes.”   –From the “Afterword” of Adoyo’s Rain: A Song for All and None (Zamani Chronicles, 2020)

Noma Hiroshi, Waga tō wa soko ni tatsu (1961)

In 1961, noted Japanese postwar novelist Noma Hiroshi (1915-1991) published the semi-autobiographical novel Waga tō wa soko ni tatsu (There Stands My Pagoda) which gives an account of several days in the life of Kaizuka Sōichi, a student at Kyoto University in the 1930s. Kaizuka, who is increasingly interested in Marxism, engages in a debate with an unnamed character on the nature of hell. While his antagonist cites Genshin’s Ōjōyōshū, Kaizuka replies by citing passages from Dante’s Inferno.

On the comparison, see James Raeside’s 1997 article in Japan Forum: “Since, as I have said, Kaizuka’s opponent is a projection of his own psyche, we cannot doubt that there is some truth in his accusation of a lubricious interest in the Paolo and Francesca passage; this is directly confirmed in a later passage of the book where Kaizuka, looking over another passage from The Inferno, wonders if it is not, after all, true that he is like those who read the work as a kind of pornographic text:

“‘Aren’t I doing the same kind of thing, re-reading The Inferno just searching for the suggestive passages? The places I re-read are already fixed, they’re the only parts that are blackened and grubby.’ (Waga tō: 146)”   –Cited from James Raeside, “This is not hell, nor am I out of it: Noma Hiroshi’s Waga tō wa soko ni tatsu,” Japan Forum 9.2 (1997): 195-215; citation p. 201.

Luigi Garlando, Vai all’inferno, Dante! (2020)

“A Firenze c’è una sontuosa villa cinquecentesca, la Gagliarda, residenza dei Guidobaldi e sede dell’impresa di famiglia. È lì che vive Vasco, quattordici anni, un bullo impenitente abituato a maltrattare professori, compagni e famigliari. A scuola Vasco fa pena, in compenso è imbattibile a Fortnite, progetta di diventare un gamer professionista e ha già migliaia di follower. Perché Vasco è così, sa di essere in credito con la vita e di avere diritto a tutto. Finché un giorno, a sorpresa, viene battuto da un avversario che si fa chiamare Dante e indossa il classico copricapo del Poeta. ‘Oh Guidobaldi, becca Montaperti! Or mi conoscerai, vil ghibellino. Ben ti convien tenere gli occhi aperti’ chatta il misterioso giocatore. Ma chi è? E perché parla in versi? Appena può, Vasco torna in postazione e cerca la rivincita per umiliarlo come solo lui sa fare, senza sapere che la più esaltante e rivoluzionaria sfida della sua vita è appena cominciata.”   —Libreria Pino website

Carlos Martínez Moreno, El Infierno (1981)

“This last novel by Uruguayan writer and defense attorney Martínez Moreno, who died in exile in 1986, depicts the revolt of Uruguay’s Tupamaro urban guerillas and their suppression by the military in the early 1970s. Using true accounts of kidnapping, torture and murder from political detainees whom he defended while living in Uruguay, Martínez Moreno fashions a dreamlike yet brutally realistic story of a police state. His book borrows chiefly from The Inferno in Dante’s Divine Comedy. In this modern-day hell, wealthy Uruguayan bankers and prosecutors are kidnapped by the Tupamaros; army colonels and police officers learn more effective ways to torture political prisoners from the ‘cold, calculating’ North American ‘adviser.'”   —Publishers Weekly, 1988

For more on the novel and its relationship to Dante’s poem, see Efraín Kristal’s “What Is, Is Not: Dante in Tomas Eloy Martínez’s Purgatorio,” Bulletin of Latin American Research 31.4 (2012): 473-484 (accessible here).

Donna Tartt, The Secret History (1992)

“On page 39, the Inferno is directly mentioned: ‘It’s the meter,’ said Francis, ‘Iambic trimeter. Those really hideous parts of Inferno, for instance, Pier de Medicina with his nose hacked off and talking though a bloody slit in his windpipe–‘ ‘ I can think of worse than that,’ Charles said. ‘So can I. But that passage is lovely and it’s because of the terza rima. The music of it. The trimeter tolls through that speech of Klytemnestra’s like a bell.’

“This was in reference to a quoted piece of the Oresteia in a classics class. The reference to the meter was to connect death and beauty, and ultimately make a statement pertinent to the subject of desire, specifically the desire to live forever. Earlier in the book, the professor teaching the classics class mentioned both Dante and Virgil by name when explaining subjects other than Greek that the students would be studying in his program.”  –Contributor Alex Lee

Contributed by Robert Alex Lee (Florida State University, ’21)

Elena Ferrante, Storia del nuovo cognome (2012)

“Ma adesso, a Ischia, aveva incontrato Lila e avevo capito che lei era stata fin dall’infanzia—e sarebbe stata sempre in futuro—il suo vero unico amore. Eh sì, era andata di sicuro a questo modo. E come rimproverarlo? Dov’era la colpa? C’era, nella loro storia, qualcosa d’intenso, di sublime, affinità elettive. Evocai versi e romanzi come tranquillanti. Forse, pensai, aver studiato mi serve solo a questo: a calmarmi. Lei gli aveva acceso la fiamma in petto, lui per anni l’aveva custodita senza accorgersene: ora che quella fiamma era divampata. Cos’altro poteva fare se non amarla. Anche se lei non l’amava. Anche se era sposata e quindi inaccessibile, vietata: un matrimonio dura per sempre, oltre la morte. A meno che non lo si infranga condannandosi alla bufera infernale fino giorno del Giudizio.”   –Elena Ferrante, Storia del nuovo cognome (p. 237)

A.J. Hackwith, The Library of the Unwritten (2019)

A Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith tells the story of a librarian and her assistant from the ‘Unfinished Book’ wing of the library of Hell tracking down escaped characters from the books, attempting to meet their authors or change their stories. Towards the beginning of the story, as they are about to depart the library of hell for Earth so they can track down an escaped character, a figure appears and quotes most of the inscription which is written on the gate of Hell in Dante’s Inferno.”   –Contributor Robert Alex Lee

Here is the synopsis of the 2019 novel, from Penguin Random House: “In the first book in a brilliant new fantasy series, books that aren’t finished by their authors reside in the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, and it is up to the Librarian to track down any restless characters who emerge from those unfinished stories.

“Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

“But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell….and Earth.”   —Penguin Random House

Contributed by Robert Alex Lee (Florida State University ’21)

Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano (1947)

the-malcolm-lowry-project-under-the-volcano-1947Chapter 3. 65.6: “In Canto XIII of the Inferno, Dante and Virgil enter a pathless wood full of withered trees. Hearing a mournful wailing but seeing no one, the poet stops and is advised by Virgil to break off a twig from one of the trees. Dante does so; the tree becomes dark with blood and begins to cry: ‘Perché mi scerpi? / non hai tu spirto di pietade alcuno?’ (‘Why do you tear me? / Have you no spirit of pity?’). The trees are the suicides, those who have wantonly destroyed their lives and poisoned their souls and are therefore fixed for eternity in barren sterility. [. . .]”

Chapter 3. 65.7: “In Mexico, figures of Christ or the Virgin Mary are common features of house or garden walls as reminders of the suffering Christ assumed on behalf of all. The words also evoke the suffering figure of Faustus: the earlier ‘Regard’ recalls his hellish fall, but the emphasis here, as with the echoes of Eliot and Dante above, is on blood and sorrow and compassion. Faustus, in distress and anguish, cannot look up to heaven for the mercy that is there; one drop of Christ’s blood would save his soul, but he cannot avoid despair. Like Faustus, the Consul is unable to ask for relief, even though it is so immediately at hand. In an early draft [UBC 29-8, 1] Lowry was more explicit: ‘You have always secretly longed, like Christ, even like your own brother, to die.'” [. . .]    — The Malcolm Lowry Project: Under The Volcano, June 2012.

See these and many more Dante-related annotations to Under the Volcano at the hypertext resource the Malcolm Lowry Project, sponsored by University of Otago (NZ).

 

Abe Kōbō, “The Boom in Science Fiction” (1962)

“[. . .] Rediscovering the Vision of Science Fiction. We cannot call everything with a monster in it science fiction, but if we make the presence of a hypothesis our standard, then we are free to widen the field considerably. The evolutionary line of science fiction could include not only Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. [1920] and War with the Newts [1936], but even Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis [1915] and David Garnett’s Lady into Fox [1922]. We could broaden our definition endlessly, going beyond the commonly accepted idea of the ‘science fiction writer’ to include authors like Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, August Strindberg, Guillaume Apollinaire, Vladmir Mayakovsky, Jules Supervielle, Lu Xun, Sōseki Natsume, Uchida Hyakken, Akutagawa Ryûnosuke, Ishikawa Jun, and so on.

“And we could go even further back, to Swift, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Dante, Apuleius, and Lucian. The pedigree for our literature of hypothesis would eventually trace itself all the way back to the Greeks.

“Viewed in this light, science fiction’s vision is not a narrow branch within literature but part of the mainstream, a literary current far longer and deeper than a movement like Naturalism, for example. Even if this vision does not encompass all of literature, it is a part too important to leave out. And if there is a potential for a boom in science fiction in our country, it will be a great blessing for Japanese literature, afflicted as it is with a shortage of hypotheses. [. . .]”   –Abe Kōbō, “The Boom in Science Fiction” (1962), trans. Christopher Bolton, Science Fiction Studies 88 (November 2002)