In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love

In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love

by Joseph Luzzi


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062357519
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/02/2015
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

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, Los Angeles Times, Bookforum, and the Times Literary Supplement.

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In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
StephWard More than 1 year ago
4.5 Stars 'In a Dark Wood' is the enchanting memoir of a man's journey through a very dark part in his life - the death of his beloved wife - and how Dante's epic poem, The Divine Comedy, was able to lead him through his grief and pain. I don't normally read a lot of memoirs, but this one grabbed my attention at the mention of Dante's classic poem. Being an English major in both college and graduate school, I have read this timeless piece several times. I'll admit that it still confounds me at times and there's such an incredible depth to it that it feels like I'll never have enough time or the skill to peel back all of its layers. I was curious as to how a memoir that identified with Dante's poem would be like - it was surely going to be a hit or miss type of situation. When I read the book, I was happily surprised that the author was actually able to meld together his own personal story with his studious journey through The Divine Comedy, without being boring or dry at all. For me, it was actually the opposite. The author's life story was both heartbreaking and full of hope, and I was really intrigued by how he associated so intimately with the poem. Aside from those aspects, the author also gives the reader a bit of commentary and explanation of the poem itself - which, for my nerdy self, was ridiculously fascinating. Even though one would expect this type of book to be boring or only appeal to a slim portion of readers - the author surprised me again on this front. The writing was done in a conversational tone, so it felt as if he were speaking to the reader directly instead of lecturing in front of a class. Even the parts of the book where he explains passages of the poem and what they mean are compelling. By writing his memoir in this way - reconciling the hardest journey of his life with Dante's masterpiece and giving the reader insight into both - the author has truly changed my opinion and experience of reading memoirs. It's true that not all readers will enjoy this book as much as I did - I attribute much of my fascination and interest to the fact that it was centered around The Divine Comedy, which as an English student (for life), instantly grabbed my attention. Even if you aren't an English scholar or fan of the classics - this memoir will still captivate you from the moment you begin reading right up until the final words. The author's story is so full of raw emotion and a roller coaster ride of feelings that it will feel as if you experience all of it yourself. Although it's written in a conversational tone, the author uses fantastic descriptions and attention to detail along with lots of vivid imagery to really bring the reader inside of the book. I very highly recommend this memoir to readers who enjoy memoirs and autobiographies, as well as those interested in classic literature, especially the focus of the book - Dante's The Divine Comedy. I honestly think that this book will appeal to fans of all genres and is something that everyone should at least give a try. I think it will really surprise you - in the best of ways. Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
ImaginaryReads More than 1 year ago
In a Dark Wood is a compelling memoir about Luzzi's journey through grief and the healing process following his wife Katherine's untimely death. A professor of Italian and a Dante scholar, Luzzi draws parallels between The Divine Comedy and his own experiences in the dark wood of grief. Having studied English during my time as an undergraduate student, I appreciate how Luzzi relates Dante's great work to his personal experiences and finds meaning in one through the other (and vice versa). It's actually what drew me to this book in the first place, and I love how Luzzi intertwines his story with that of Dante's work. I do wish that I had read The Divine Comedy before picking up this book. It has been years since I've looked at Dante's work. While Luzzi does a good job explaining the connections that he makes between Dante's work and his own experiences, a refresher would have helped me to better understand the significance behind Luzzi's references from a more critical perspective (the casual reader shouldn't have too many problems). That said, In a Dark Wood has a complicated narration. Luzzi not only intertwines his story following Katherine's death with that of The Divine Comedy, he also includes anecdotes from his college days and from his parents' lives. While I like all the connections that Luzzi makes, he jumps around a lot from scene to scene, from one point in time to another. Furthermore, though his book follows a general timeline, he does not entirely narrate events in chronological order, so it can be difficult to piece events together in their proper order, especially if you don't finish the book in one sitting. I would have preferred if Luzzi cut back on some points and focused more on the immediate storyline. I do appreciate how he ties in his Italian heritage and how he shows the importance of family and friends in his life. Luzzi shows the ups and downs and how his family supported him in his time of grief. The inclusion of his family members' stories also serves to show where he comes from and how it influences his relationships with different women. In reflecting on his family, his personal experiences, and on Dante's work, Luzzi gives a profound commentary on love, life, and loss. As he tells his daughter Isabel at the end of his book, "it's not what lands you in the dark wood that defines you, but what you do to make it out—just as you can't understand the first words of a story until you've read the last ones" (quoted from ARC). In a Dark Wood is a heavy read in that Luzzi is weighted by his grief throughout much of the book. In his grief, he makes many poor decisions, including his neglect of his fatherly duties to Isabel, and he continuously finds himself unable to move forward with his life. The excruciatingly slow progress out of the dark wood can get frustrating to readers who haven't gone through similar experiences. Nevertheless, Luzzi's narration stays true to reality in showing readers the challenges of working through grief. Through it all, Luzzi is there reflecting on his thoughts and actions during his time in the dark wood, and he makes ample use of The Divine Comedy to comment on love and loss. Content (contains potential spoilers) - Questions about the afterlife and if humans have a soul that lives on after death. (Includes some questions on religion and God's existence. - Relations with multiple women following Katherine's death, includes sex (not explicit). - In his grief over his wife's untimely death, Luzzi becomes an absent father and leaves much of the child-raising duties to his mother and his sisters. He also gets into heated arguments with some people, including a lover and his mother over his behavior. They aren't described in great detail. - I do not recall any language that ought to be mentioned. If there was any, they are few and sparse.