Review of Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (2013)

review-murakami-colorless-tsukuru-tazaki-and-his-years-of-pilgrimage-2020“But it’s classical music – another Murakami love – that gives Murakami the title of his latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. The title comes from Franz Liszt’s three-suite work Anneés de pèlerinage, which translates as ‘Years of Pilgrimage.’

“The eighth part of the first suite – ‘Le mal du pays’ (translation: ‘Homesickness’) – bonds the five main characters (they all play and/or listen to the piece throughout the novel) as they voyage through the “years of pilgrimage” of their mid-30s.

“Murakami’s literary antecedent in writing about one’s mid-30s as a time of a despondent and confusing quest for meaning is, of course, Dante and his Divine Comedy. And the quest of Dante’s protagonist ends happily, as does the quest of Murakami’s protagonist, Tsukuru Tazaki.” [. . .]    –Paul Gleason, Stereo Embers

Justin Meckes, Inferno (2020)

Inferno is a novella, a portion of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, in prose rather than the original verse. Inferno finds our protagonist enduring the very same tormenting journey through the rings of hell but in an expanded format.

“The work is retold in its original period, but it has been infused with somewhat less overt references to today’s politics. Thus, this Inferno will maintain a universal appeal and be made available in a Russian Flag edition.

“[. . .] Within this version, multiple Trump associates (e.g., Paul Manafort, Stephen Miller, Jared Kushner, etc.) make appearances in the place of their Florentine counterparts.”

Read a short excerpt here.

“What Happens When a Writer Hates the Heroine of Her New Book?” Excerpt from Nisha Susan’s The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories

“In her second week at the library, she was choked. Somewhere in this building, she had been told, is an actual manuscript of the Divine Comedy. Dante Alighieri had not sat around in the 1300s writing coy shit. Somewhere near here, Arun Kolatkar had written Jejuri and the Kala Ghoda poems. Somewhere near here, Kolatkar had died. Where in her writing was the blood, the grime, the puking on the streets and the deep stuff?”    –Nisha Susan, excerpt from The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories, Huffington Post, August 10, 2020

Natsume Sōseki, The Wayfarer (Kojin) (1912)

“[I]t gradually becomes clear that marriages good and bad, arranged and romantic are constants in this narrative. Suffering from a kind of existential crisis, Ichiro’s marriage to Nao is in trouble. Ichiro even suspects that his feckless younger brother Jiro has been carrying on with Nao, and voices despairing references to Paolo and Francesca from Dante’s Inferno. The third part of the book covers the period after they all return to Tokyo from their travels. As Ichiro and Nao’s marriage continues to deteriorate, Nao is tight-lipped, refusing to argue or complain, while Ichiro seems close to a nervous breakdown.”   –B. Morrison, “The Wayfarer (Kojin), by Natsume Sōseki” (March 22, 2010)

See also our post on Sōseki’s 1908 novel The Miner.

Natsume Sōseki, The Miner (1908)

“Where Murakami’s introduction starts to go astray, however, is in his assumption that Sōseki’s chief ambition is to describe the mine as an entity in and of itself. Indeed Murakami believes Sōseki pretended to be uninterested in the young man’s personal experiences to avoid confronting ‘a major social problem head-on.’

“Murakami has the equation backward: Sōseki’s main objective was not to describe a mine but to present a modern-day vision of hell, and the mine was a convenient way of doing so. Sōseki is always interested in universal themes that transcend the here and now, and certainly the intensely personal, in order to work on a deeper level. In The Miner he digs deep down into human psychology itself.

“The descent into hell is a recurrent Sōseki theme. In his first piece of fiction, the 1905 story ‘Rondon To’ (‘The Tower of London’), his protagonist crosses the river Thames — recast as the River Styx — and passes under a portal, imagining he can find there Dante’s famous words from Inferno, as translated Henry Francis Cary, ‘All hope abandon, ye who enter here.’ Sōseki’s first vision of hell was achieved by summoning up the ghosts of those who had been murdered or executed in the Tower of London. Sōseki explicitly links The Miner with ‘The Tower of London’ in numerous subtle ways, describing the young protagonist of The Miner as undergoing ‘degeneration’ as he descends into the mine in reference to Max Nordau’s 1892 theory of degeneration, highlighted at the beginning of ‘The Tower of London.’”   –Damian Flanagan, “Natsume Sōseki goes back to hell in The Miner,” The Japan Times (October 24, 2015)

See also our post on Sōseki’s 1912 novel The Wayfarer.

Contributed by Savannah Mikus (Florida State University BA ’20, MA ’22)

Christopher R. Miller, “Purgatory Is for Real” (Review of G. Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo)

“The afterlife has also been having a cultural moment in recent fiction, but typically in the form of something other than heaven—call it, for lack of a better word, purgatory. In the popular television series The Good Place, the vaguely named realm of the title turns out to be something else entirely, and its characters find they have their ethical work cut out for them. Two recent novels have also set their action in a postmortem limbo, with similar narrative implications: George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo (2017) and the Finnish author Laura Lindstedt’s Oneiron (just published in an English translation by Owen F. Witesman) imagine versions of the bardo, the Tibetan Buddhist transitional state between death and rebirth.

[. . .]

“From the perspective of the petal-scented heaven that Saunders intimates, the ghosts are the myopic schlemiels, but their fear of ‘leaving behind forever the beautiful things of this world’ takes on a touchingly quixotic grandeur. Writ large, their sense of peril, uncertainty, and loss has obvious allegorical resonance, suggesting both the president’s interminable state of mourning and the nation’s passage through war and precarious rebirth. In this, Saunders’s bardo is not unlike Dante’s purgatory—a place of unfinished business, nostalgic longing, imaginative engagement with the living, and above all, therapeutic forms of work.”   — Christopher R. Miller, “Purgatory Is for Real,” Public Books, May 23, 2018

Dario Crapanzano, Il furto della Divina Commedia (2019)

“Milano 1954, Michele Esposito, preside in un liceo di Città Studi, ha una grande passione: i libri antichi, nei quali investe la maggior parte delle sue entrate. Grazie a un’eredità riesce ad acquistare, per ben quattro milioni di lire, l’incunabolo di una Divina Commedia del Quattrocento. Una copia rara e preziosa che il preside presenta solennemente al corpo docente dell’istituto. Quando, uno dei giorni seguenti, il libro sparisce dalla cassaforte della scuola, a indagare viene chiamato Fausto Lorenzi, un ispettore dagli occhi «di ghiaccio».

“Chi poteva conoscere la combinazione della cassaforte? Molti sono i sospettati: i docenti e anche la storica segretaria, che molti definiscono la vera preside. E quando viene scoperto un omicidio, Lorenzi collega subito il delitto al furto.

“Ma il mistero rimane fitto…

“Nella consueta atmosfera vintage della Milano anni Cinquanta, tra cinema fumosi e antiche librerie antiquarie, Dario Crapanzano costruisce un giallo appassionante e crea, dopo Mario Arrigoni, un nuovo personaggio investigatore, che sorprenderà i lettori e che proverà a risolvere lo strano caso del furto della Divina Commedia.”    — Mondadori

Contributed by Ludovica Valentini (Florida State University, MA ’18)

Jo Walton’s new novel, Lent (2019) is “Dante’s Groundhog Day”

“I love Hugo and Nebula-Award winner Jo Walton’s science fiction and fantasy novels (previously) and that’s why it was such a treat to inaugurate my new gig as an LA Times book reviewer with a review of her latest novel, Lent, a fictionalized retelling of the live of Savonarola, who reformed the Florentine church in the 1490s, opposing a corrupt Pope, who martyred him (except in Walton’s book, and unbeknownst to Savonarola himself, Savonarola is a demon who is sent back to Hell when he is martyred, then returned to 1492 Florence to start over again).

“The story is motivated by a mystical shift in Savonarola’s destiny that allows him to remember, from one incarnation to the next, who he truly is. He lives many different versions of his life, seeking a way to harrow Hell, restore grace, redeem himself and save Florence.

“The Groundhog Day-meets-Dante premise is incredibly weird and incredibly satisfying, a bizarrely effective way of making the characters come to life as we see how they would have reacted to the same circumstance with slight variations, building up a series of incredibly detailed and nuanced portraits. And because this is a Walton novel, there are no easy answers, and ambiguity rules overall — and because Walton has become so close with the Renaissance scholar and science fiction novelist (and librettist, singer, and all-round genius) Ada Palmer, her Renaissance Florence has the ring of the true metal, incredibly well-drawn in ever way.” […]    –Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing, May 16, 2019

Charles Patterson, In Dante’s Footsteps: My Journey to Hell

“This modern divine comedy, based on the original Divine Comedy that Dante wrote 700 years ago, tells the story of Tom Reed and how his early interest in Dante inspired him to make his own viaggio (journey) to the Underworld.

“After describing Tom’s church upbringing and his joining, then leaving the church, the story continues in the Underworld (a.k.a. Hell) with a cast of characters Dante never could have imagined: Tanya, the CEO; Umberto, the Guest Master; Rachel, a young Dante scholar from Berkeley; visitors from China, India, Kenya, and Germany; and famous people in history woken up from the Big Nap for a ‘Great Minds and Personalities’ conference attended by such greats as Socrates, Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc, Einstein, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Groucho Marx. Tom also visits his father who’s in a ‘Purgatory precinct’ and talks to Hashem, his ‘wife’ Naomi, and somebody called Satan who wears a cowboy hat and walks with a swagger.

“The climax of Tom’s viaggio is his visit to the Crusaders who used to be in charge because he wants to include them in the book he plans to write that could make him the next Dante. However, because the Crusaders disapprove of his being a ‘defrocked priest,’ when he arrives, they withdraw their invitation and put him on trial.” — Charles Patterson, Press Release

Tasha Mack, Angel & Dante: A Dopeboy Love Story (2017)

Angel+Dante-Tasha-MackWhile the connection to Dante Alighieri isn’t explicit, the pairing of the two protagonists in the novel, Angel and Dante, has a “heaven and hell” resonance to it. Here is the synopsis of the novel, from Amazon.com: “The young, intelligent, & beautiful Angel Harris swore off men after a traumatic experience left her wanting to end her life. She found love in the arms of her new partner, Courtney. Things in the relationship were peaches & cream until Angel crossed paths with Dante Johnson.

“Dante Johnson, better known to the streets as Duke, was one of Atlanta’s most notorious kingpins. Duke was used to having women flock to him and be at his beck and call, until he met Angel. Angel was like a breath of fresh air to him with her charismatic personality and she helped him go escape the drugs, crimes, & promiscuous women in the Atlanta streets. Dante proved that he would do anything to make Angel his, even flaunt her around town with his fiancé Arianne at home.

“Arianne Thomas thinks that she has found her meal ticket out of the hood after she pops up pregnant with Dante’s baby. She is on cloud nine, until she finds out about Dante’s new love interest. Arianne will stop at nothing to protect what she feels is rightfully hers.” — Amazon.com