Title – In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me about Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love
Author – Joseph Luzzi
2015 – Memoir
Rating – 4/5
Source – TLC Book Tours
The Premise: Joseph Luzzi became a father and a widower on the same day. After a tragic accident claimed the life of his wife, Luzzi entered into a new era of grief and survival. He clung to his work in the ivory tower, continuing to teach and write and learn. But personally, he felt as though his life was falling apart. He enlisted the help of his family to raise his daughter and the help of Dante to pull him out of his own dark wood.
Thoughts: Before I go any further, I feel compelled to admit the following. Just last month, my roommate and I decided to tackle Dante’s Divine Comedy for one of our hugely competitive roommate reading challenges. I posted about it here, if you are so inclined to read about it. I went into the challenge really excited about reading Dante. The Divine Comedy towered above me, intimidating and imposing. But I had always wanted to know what the fuss was all about, so I kept my mind open and eagerly joined Dante on his journey. Unfortunately, that was the high point for me. The farther I read, the more I disliked the book. By the time I finished, I positively hated it for taking my time and attention away from other things.
My dislike of The Divine Comedy made me even more eager to read Luzzi’s book, to be honest. Because Luzzi had attained what I couldn’t. After a visit to Italy and an introduction to Dante, Luzzi made Dante a large part of his life and work. He taught students to appreciate Dante, gained inspiration from Dante. And in his darkest hour, he turned to Dante to help him gain an understanding of life and death.
In a Dark Wood is intensely personal. Luzzi opens up about things that I think most people would keep silent. One part in particular had the peculiar effect of both rankling me and making my heart ache for Luzzi. He talks a lot about his journey to fatherhood – especially how growing up with an Italian family and mindset influenced his beliefs about parenting. I’ve always been raised with a spirit of equality, that if I get married someday, my husband and I will share duties equally. Luzzi was raised in a world of gender roles, where mothers raise children while fathers provide for the family. Single fatherhood began to change that assumption for him and bring new understanding. As I said, I got irritated that he hadn’t given it thought before, while simultaneously empathizing with his pain and loneliness and confusion.
Luzzi divided the book into 3 sections that parallel Dante’s journey through the afterlife, his own versions of Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. Sandwiched between sections of deeply touching memoir are literary criticism, the story of Dante’s life, and historical context that helps the reader understand the political climate that motivated Dante to write his greatest masterpiece. These were some of my favorite sections because I find history fascinating!
One thing I noticed while reading is that Luzzi’s references to and quotes from The Divine Comedy are from a different translation than I read. This reinforces my belief that we just read a not-so-great translation. Like the King James version of the Bible instead of the Message version. The more formal translation works for some, but not for me apparently. So now I want to reread the translation Luzzi likes in the hope that I will finally love The Divine Comedy.