Andrew Davidson, “The Gargoyle” (2008)

andrew-davidson-the-gargoyle-2008“Seeing the angel wings on Marianne’s bare back, the burn victim starts to melt. He also likes Marianne’s captivating conversational style. (‘For now, may I tell you a story about a dragon?’) He wonders if, how and why she is crazy. He finds a reassuring internal consistency to the string of lovelorn fairy tales she tells him, and to the 14th-century biography she claims is her own. He finds it fitting that she wants to take a badly burned man on a guided tour of Dante’s circles of hell. . . Although The Gargoyle is defiantly uncategorizable, Doubleday is hard at work taming it. (Suggested question for book club group discussions: ‘What sort of tailor-made suffering might Dante have invented for you?’).”    –Janet Maslin, The New York Times, July 31, 2008

Thomas H. Cook, “Master of the Delta” (2008)

thomas-h-cook-master-of-the-delta-2008“Jack Branch, teaching high school in his hometown in the Mississippi Delta in 1954, is justifiably proud of his college-prep ‘specialty’ class on the nature of evil. It’s a guts-and-gore attack on the classics–a potent mix of Dante and Melville and Jack the Ripper, delivered with the relish of Suetonius and the pizzazz of a burlesque stripper, and it prods his restless students to think about issues like hatred and intolerance. But this prideful young man, scion of an old aristocratic family who freely admits his sense of noblesse oblige in educating the poor and underprivileged, hasn’t given a thought to the kind of evil he himself can generate by meddling in other people’s lives.” [. . .]    –Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times, July 13, 2008

Kathryn Harrison, While They Slept: An Inquiry into the Murder of a Family (2008)

kathyrn-harrison-while-they-slept-an-inquiry-into-the-murder-of-a-family-2008“In the Inferno of Dante, Count Ugolino, forced to cannibalize his children’s corpses, is led to narrate the horror by Dante’s offer to retell the story up in the world above. Genesis 19 not only tells the story of incest between Lot and his daughters, but proceeds to name their offspring: Moab and Ben-ammi, and the Moabites and Ammonites descended from them. Abel’s blood ‘cries out’ with its story, and the fratricide Cain is marked.” [. . .]    –Robert Pinsky, New York Times, June 8, 2008

Mark Mills, “The Savage Garden” (2007)

mark-mills-the-savage-garden-2007“A villa in the Tuscan hills is the setting for this gracefully executed literary puzzle. A Cambridge student wins a fellowship to study the villa’s Renaissance garden, built by a Florentine banker in memory of his wife. Consulting sources like Ovid and Dante, he is able to unlock the garden’s shocking secrets.” [. . .]    –Elsa Dixler, The New York Times, May 25, 2008

Matilde Asensi, “The Last Cato” (2007)

matilde-asensi-the-last-cato-2007Asensi’s first novel to be published in English features a clandestine religious organization, a code contained in the work of a long-dead genius, a plucky heroine, and just the right combination of obscure history and plausible conjecture. Sound familiar? The Last Cato will inevitably draw comparisons to The Da Vinci Code, but this book is in many ways more compelling, if a bit less accessible. After Dr. Ottavia Salina, a nun working as a paleographer at the Vatican, is asked to decipher tattoos on the dead body of an ‘enemy of the Church’ from Ethiopia, she soon discovers the deceased was tied up with the Staurofilakes, an ancient order who have sought to protect the True Cross and now seem to be stealing slivers of it from around the world. The key to tracking them down? Dante’s Divine Comedy. Turns out that Dante was a member of the order himself, and that the notoriously dense Divine Comedy is a kind of coded guidebook to the order’s rituals. Salina and a couple companions set off, with Dante as their guide, on a rollicking, round-the-world adventure. Some of the conjecture seems far-fetched, but the research is impeccable, and the behind-the-scenes Vatican life feels utterly authentic. As engrossing as it is intelligent, this just might be the next big book in the burgeoning religious thriller subgenre.”    –John Green, Booklist, Amazon

Dante Detective?

domenic-stansbury-the-ancient-rain The third installment of the Dominic Stansberry‘s San Francisco mystery series featuring Dante Mancuso, AKA The Pelican. Forthcoming, 2008 with St. Martin’s Minotaur.

“. . .THE ANCIENT RAIN, the third novel in a habit-forming series about Dante Mancuso, a private eye who knows everyone to talk to–or goes to the funeral of anyone unable to talk. Dante finds himself with a paying job when a federal prosecutor reopens a 1975 court case against Bill Owens, who once ran with the anarchists responsible for a bank robbery in which a woman was killed. As Dante works his sources–a vivid gallery of old-timers clinging to an eroding culture–he broods on the changes since 9/11, eloquently conveying the paranoia that can have a community seeing terrorists on every corner.” [. . .]    –Marilyn Stasio, New York Times, April 27, 2008

Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (2007)

philip-zimbardi-the-lucifer-effect-understanding-how-good-people-turn-evil-2007From Chapter One:
“Lucifer’s sin is what thinkers in the Middle Ages called ‘cupiditas.’ For Dante, the sins that spring from that root are the most extreme ‘sins of the wolf,’ the spiritual condition of having an inner black hole so deep within oneself that no amount of power or money can ever fill it. For those suffering the mortal malady called cupiditas, whatever exists outside of one’s self has worth only as it can be exploited by, or taken into one’s self. In Dante’s Hell those guilty of that sin are in the ninth circle, frozen in the Lake of Ice. Having cared for nothing but self in life, they are encased in icy Self for eternity. By making people focus only on oneself in this way, Satan and his followers turn their eyes away from the harmony of love that unites all living creatures.
The sins of the wolf cause a human being to turn away from grace and to make self his only good–and also his prison. In the ninth circle of the Inferno, the sinners, possessed of the spirit of the insatiable wolf, are frozen in a self-imposed prison where prisoner and guard are fused in an egocentric reality.”    –Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect (2007)

Contributed by Aisha Woodward (Bowdoin, ’08)

“Paradise Lost: Why Doesn’t Anyone Read Dante’s Paradise”

robert-p-baird-paradise-lost-why-doesnt-anyone-read-dantes-paradise“Dante’s Paradiso is the least read and least admired part of his Divine Comedy. The Inferno‘s nine circles of extravagant tortures have long captured the popular imagination, while Purgatorio is often the connoisseur’s choice. But as Robert Hollander writes in his new edition of the Paradiso, ‘One finds few who will claim (or admit) that it is their favorite cantica.’ (A cantica, or canticle, is one of the three titled parts of the poem.) The time is ripe to reconsider Paradiso‘s neglect, however, since three major new translations of the poem we know as the Divine Comedy are coming to completion. (Dante simply called it his Comedy; in what was perhaps the founding instance of publishing hype, divine was added by a Venetian printer in 1555.) Hollander’s edition, produced with his wife, Jean, was published this summer, and two more are due out next year: one by Robin Kirkpatrick and the other—the one I’m holding out for—by Robert M. Durling and Ronald L. Martinez.” [. . .]    –Robert P. Baird, Slate, December 24, 2007

“Dante’s Self-Help Book”

william-blake-inferno-26-wall-street-journal.jpg“There are monuments to Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) everywhere in Italy, where three years of study in Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ are required for young people to learn how to lead the best possible life. One cannot imagine Italy’s culture without Dante’s 14th-century work — any more than one could imagine Britain’s without Shakespeare or America’s without the Declaration of Independence.
Unlike most other world classics, The Divine Comedy is a self-help book. People read Shakespeare with no expectation that they will become Shakespeare. But many read Dante expecting to mimic his results and transform themselves from seekers, lost in their own questions, into poets, certain and transcendent.” [. . .]    –Harriet Rubin, Wall Street Journal, July 28, 2007

Contributed by Jake Bourdeau

Barbara Reynolds, Dante: The Poet, the Political Thinker, the Man (2006)

barbara-reynolds-dante-the-poet-the-thinker-the-man-2006“. . .But the novelties come thick and fast, beginning (so far as I was concerned) with the suggestion on page 10 that Dante and other poets he associated with in Florence as a young man might have given their visionary and dreamlike imaginings a boost with the stimulus of love-potions. These herbal stimulants, cannabis perhaps, may, it turns out later, be what Dante is referring to in the comparison, near the start of Paradiso, between his own ‘trans-human’ experience and what Glaucus felt ‘on tasting of the herb’ (nel gustar dell’erba) which made him into a sea-god. As Reynolds explains at greater length when she comes to the final vision of the Godhead, mystics did often use drugs of one kind or another in conjunction with fasting and meditation in their pursuit of visionary illumination. There is no reason, she argues, why Dante should not have done so too. Dante as a substance abuser? It is not a key argument and Reynolds may be being provocative, even mischievous. She herself gives much more importance to her decoding of the two prophecies that have always been a problem for Dante commentators. . .”    –Peter Hainsworth, The Times Literary Supplement, October 18, 2006 (accessible only with a subscription)

Contributed by Jenny Davidson