Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Harper (May 26, 2015)
Rating: 5 stars
In the aftermath of a heartbreaking tragedy, a scholar and writer uses Dante’s Divine Comedy to shepherd him through the dark wood of grief and mourning—a rich and emotionally resonant memoir of suffering, hope, love, and the power of literature to inspire and heal the most devastating loss.
Where do we turn when we lose everything? Joseph Luzzi found the answer in the opening of The Divine Comedy: “In the middle of our life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood.”
When Luzzi’s pregnant wife was in a car accident—and died forty-five minutes after giving birth to their daughter, Isabel—he finds himself a widower and first-time father at the same moment. While he grieves and cares for his infant daughter, miraculously delivered by caesarean before his wife passed, he turns to Dante’s Divine Comedy for solace.
In a Dark Wood tells the story of how Dante helps the author rebuild his life. He follows the structure of The Divine Comedy, recounting the Inferno of his grief, the Purgatory of healing and raising Isabel on his own, and then Paradise of the rediscovery of love.
A Dante scholar, Luzzi has devoted his life to teaching and writing about the poet. But until he turned to the epic poem to learn how to resurrect his life, he didn’t realize how much the poet has given back to him. A meditation on the influence of great art and its power to give us strength in our darkest moments, In a Dark Wood opens the door into the mysteries of Dante’s epic poem. Beautifully written and flawlessly balanced, Luzzi’s book is a hybrid of heart-rending memoir and critical insight into one of the greatest pieces of literature in all of history. In a Dark Wood draws us into man’s descent into hell and back: it is Dante’s journey, Joseph Luzzi’s, and our very own.
Happy Tuesday everyone and thank you for visiting my stop on the blog tour for this touching memoir, In a Dark Wood. I’d like to send a big thank you to the author Joseph Luzzi and also to TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for giving me the chance to read this and provide my honest review of it.
In a Dark Wood is a true story of a man who loses his wife in a car accident that also results in their baby girls premature birth. It is the memoir of his struggle with living in the aftermath of this great loss – becoming a father, whether or not to give up on love and finding his way out of grief and mourning. Dante’s Divine Comedy is his guide through this just as Virgil was Dante’s guide in the Inferno.
I will preface this review by saying that I am giving this book a full five star review. I couldn’t put this book down. It was tragic throughout as the author masterfully takes the reader through the darkness of loss weaving the words of Dante’s work into the narrative to show the guidance, comfort and wisdom he found in them.
I had never quite looked at the Divine Comedy this way and I walked away from this book having learnt a new perspective on the epic poem that I had loved when I first encountered it in college. While I think someone who hasn’t read it and loved it will still enjoy the reading experience of this book I think those that have had the unique experience of reading The Divine Comedy will come to understand it in a different way after reading this book.
I felt like this book was part memoir and part literary criticism although I don’t think that’s quite the genre I’m looking for. It sort of reminded me of the reflection on literature that I loved in Ann Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet but on a more personal level.
The subject of the book itself is a heavier one but even with that I felt like I flew through this book. Maybe it was because I enjoyed the writing and learning more about Dante, his life and his work and how they related to someone’s life. I also found myself very invested in the story of the authors grief and struggle. The things he wonders about as he deals with death and questions of the soul are things I find myself wondering about as well when I think of losing a loved one. In fact, I will be adding this book to my collection. I can see myself turning to this book for guidance during loss just as the author turned to the Divine Comedy.
I’m a big fan of memoirs and when I read that this one incorporated a piece of literature as profound as the Divine Comedy I jumped at the chance to read this. I highly recommend reading this. It is profound, deep, touching, and deeply fulfilling.
About Joseph Luzzi
Joseph Luzzi holds a doctorate from Yale and teaches at Bard. He is the author of My Two Italies, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy, which won the Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies from the Modern Language Association. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Bookforum, and the Times Literary Supplement.