One of this year’s most anticipated books is Inferno by Dan Brown, once again taking us into the world of Robert Langdon (The Da Vinci Code, among others) and the secret symbolism contained in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, a portion of his epic poem The Divine Comedy, telling of one soul’s tortured journey through hell, purgatory, and finally paradise guided by the poet Virgil. I haven’t yet read Dan Brown’s latest, but for those interested in fiction centering on Dante’s master work, I recommend The Dante Club by Daniel Pearl.
The Divine Comedy was first translated into English in the late 1800s by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow while serving on the faculty of Harvard University. The Dante Club is a fictionalized mystery centering on Longfellow and his real-life colleagues – Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes (father of the great jurist), poet James Russell Lowell and publisher J.T. Fields – who are assisting with proofreading and critiquing his translation process. Like academics throughout the ages, they’re up against administrative bureaucrats who want to dictate the curriculum of the university and are performing the translation as a labor of love.
When a series of odd deaths begin occurring in the Boston/Cambridge area, the four friends slowly begin to realize that the deaths are punishments portrayed in the Inferno, retribution for particular sins that the 19th century American victims seem to have been guilty of. Set against a backdrop of an America rebuilding after the recent Civil War and a Massachusetts adapting to the influx of both immigrants and former slaves, the story not only brings aspects of Dante’s work to life but also provides a glimpse into the growing pains of a great American metropolitan area.
The story is captivating, well researched, and highly recommended.