Beyond The Inferno by Alex L. Moretti

“What if the fires of ancient love burned so strong you’d traverse three realms of the afterlife in a bid to save mankind from spiritual destruction, for one last kiss with your dead lover? Even if it was she who plunged you into the depths of Hell, the terrifying, blazing Inferno, to witness the punishment of sin in all its barbarity, cruelty and horror. While you were still alive…”   –Beyond the Inferno, Alex L. Moretti, 2020

Alex L. Moretti’s Beyond the Inferno is a novelization of Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

See our post on Moretti’s essay here.

Final Chapter of Adam Buenosayres: “A Journey to the Dark City Cacodelphia” (1948)

the-final-chapter-adam-buenosayres“A modernist urban novel in the tradition of James Joyce, Adam Buenosayres is a tour-de-force that does for Buenos Aires what Carlos Fuentes did for Mexico City or José Lezama Lima did for Havana – chronicles a city teeming with life in all its clever and crass, rude and intelligent forms. Employing a range of literary styles and a variety of voices, Leopoldo Marechal parodies and celebrates Argentina’s most brilliant literary and artistic generation, the martinfierristas of the 1920s, among them Jorge Luis Borges. First published in 1948 during the polarizing reign of Juan Perón, the novel was hailed by Julio Cortázar as an extraordinary event in twentieth-century Argentine literature. Set over the course of three break-neck days, Adam Buenosayres follows the protagonist through an apparent metaphysical awakening, a battle for his soul fought by angels and demons, and a descent through a place resembling a comic version of Dante’s hell. Presenting both a breathtaking translation and thorough explanatory notes, Norman Cheadle captures the limitless language of Marechal’s original and guides the reader along an unmatched journey through the culture of Buenos Aires. This first-ever English translation brings to light Marechal’s masterwork with an introduction outlining the novel’s importance in various contexts – Argentine, Latin American, and world literature – and with notes illuminating its literary, cultural, and historical references. A salient feature of the Argentine canon, Adam Buenosayres is both a path-breaking novel and a key text for understanding Argentina’s cultural and political history.” [. . .]    –Amazon, April 1, 2014.

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.

WaPo Review of Murakami, Killing Commendatore

“The middle of life is a second adolescence, with no one left to admire our suffering. All of Dante’s work is a beautiful, unconvincing riposte to the sense of anguish this age can bring: ‘Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered from the straight path,’ he writes. Eventually he makes it to Paradise; but nobody reads that part.

“The great Japanese author Haruki Murakami grew famous writing about the tender melancholy of youth. (Norwegian Wood made him so recognizable in Japan that he left.) Reading books from that period, you feel sad without knowing why — and yet, within that sadness glows a small ember of happiness, because to feel sad is at least to feel honestly.

“Now, in his 60s, he has begun to consider middle age more carefully, as if he sees himself most clearly across a 20-year lag. It’s the subject of his underrated Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and also of his immersive, repetitive, big-hearted new novel, Killing Commendatore.”   –Charles Finch, “Haruki Murakami turns his gaze toward middle age,” Washington Post, October 8, 2018

Another review, posted on the blog Happy Antipodean on December 1, 2018, also likens Murakami’s novel to Dante’s poem.

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)

Epigraph to the Novel Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson

“In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard a thing it is to tell what a wild , and rough, and stubborn wood this was, which in my thought renews the fear!”    –David Guterson, Epigraph to Snow Falling on Cedars, September 1994

Check out Snow Falling on Cedars on Amazon here.

Contributed by Daniel Christian.

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

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (1970)

“Thus [Soaphead Church] chose to remember Hamlet’s abuse of Ophelia, but not Christ’s love of Mary Magdalene; Hamlet’s frivolous politics, but not Christ’s serious anarchy. He noticed Gibbon’s acidity, but not his tolerance, Othello’s love for the fair Desdemona, but not Iago’s perverted love of Othello. The works he admired most were Dante’s; those he despised most were Dostoyevsky’s. For all his exposure to the best minds of the Western world, he allowed only the narrowest interpretation to touch him. He responded to his father’s controlled violence by developing hard habits and a soft imagination. A hatred of, and fascination with, any hint of disorder or decay.

“At seventeen, however, he met his Beatrice, who was three years his senior.”   –Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (1970)

For more on this passage, see Dennis Looney, Freedom Readers: The African American Reception of Dante Alighieri and the Divine Comedy (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), pp. 183-188.