Joseph Luzzi's In a Dark Wood (2015)

What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love In a Dark Wood (Hardback) - Common - Joseph Luzzi

Phyllis Rose took a year to read Proust and wrote her "memoir in real time". More recently, Rebecca Mead revisited Middlemarch and she, too, wrote a memoir which examined her own life in that context. In Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, Nina Sankovitch plunged into the classic Russian's work as part of coping with her sister's death.

 

We readers turn to books in many moods but perhaps most significantly in times of struggle. Our reading can offer joy and entertainment, but it can also offer a way out of the darkness.
 

There is no question that Joseph Luzzi is a bookish sort. His car idles in a bookstore parking lot; he listens to an audiobook which features Ian McKellen as Odysseus; he compares an April day to a day in Wuthering Heights.

 

But his relationship with Dante's work, and his reliance upon it while grieving, is remarkable: "For the first time in my life, I was inhabiting a book."

 

Following his wife's death in an accident, which precipitated the birth of their daughter, the author is forced to inhabit an intense intimacy and, simultaneously, an overwhelming sense of distance.

 

"I felt a rational love for the [infant] hand I held and stroked it, but nothing instinctual and visceral. I was a ghost haunting what had been my own life."

In this state, he turns to literature.

 

"Long study and great love – the same words that would bring Dante to Virgil in the dark wood, and what would bring me to Dante in my time of greatest woe."

 

There, on the page, Joseph Luzzi begins to reflect upon his loss, to reassemble his life and begin the long process of building a relationship with his new daughter.

 

"In writing so movingly about Beatrice’s death in the Vita Nuova, Dante used poetry to reflect on all-too-common experience. He was filling the exquisite eliteness of Guido’s poetry with pressing human needs. That was Dante’s gift – to merge the beauty of poetry with the visceral experiences of life, love, and death."
 

Readers need not have the same intense relationship with Dante's work to appreciate the healing which is an integral part of Joseph Luzzi's reading and writing. These are universal themes, immediately accessible to readers.

 

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