Saturday, October 31, 2015

Book Review: How Dante Can Save Your Life by Rod Dreher

This is the book I was hoping someone would write about the effect of Dante on a person's life (or, most precisely, a person's mid-life) today. What's interesting is that Dreher's circumstances are very different from mine, and yet his main conclusion is the same. It's like this: At the end of Purgatorio, Dante sees a vision of history that prepares him for the ascent to Paradise. At the time, another poet, Statius, is there as well, but Dante only mentions him in passing, implying that Statius didn't see Beatrice in his vision, but that he saw something else, something personal that would only make sense to Statius. In the same way, I see different things from Dreher, but at the end, the different things I see serve the exact same function of healing and restoration. Near the end, I increasingly dogeared the book, thinking "this is me."

The biggest flaw in the book may be a result of its own success. Throughout the first half of the book it's not clear exactly why Dreher's crisis is such a big deal. In the second half, it becomes more clear what the precise conflict is, and yes, it is a big deal. Maybe the redemption Dreher experiences is so complete that he can't quite remember the cutting nature of the hurt in the first part?

Although How Dante Can Save Your Life is written to a reader who has not read Dante yet, reading it post-Commedia I still found it very useful to see which passages resonated with Dreher. My hope is that there would be a genre of "Dante books" in which people write about how Dante helped them. I'd read that.

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