To Join the Lost by Seth Steinzor is a modern retelling of Dante Alighieri's The Inferno. In it we join a middle-aged Jewish lawyer from Vermont as he takes a tour of hell...this time with Dante himself as our guide. As with all things in this world, much has changed in the nether-regions since Dante took his trip with Virgil showing the way. Steinzor has updated some of the punishments and brought us more modern inmates for our lawyer to interact with. We are shown that the more things change, the more they stay the same--and while the face of evil may be different in our times, the underlying causes and motivations remain constant.
I have to be honest in my review. This was not a knock-my-socks-off retelling of Dante's classic. It's okay...which is the rating I have given it (although since Goodreads does not allow half stars, I have rounded up from my 2 1/2 star rating). There are moments of great metaphorical beauty. There are some very lovely turns of phrases and sometimes whole stanzas of mighty fine poetry. But, unlike the translation of Dante's classic which I just read in the fall, it is not sustained. Dante's work captivated me--even when I didn't understand everything, even when I had to keep flipping to the notes to figure out who these people were or what exactly Dante was talking about, he still held me in the palm of his hand. And, despite this being a modern retelling, notes would have been useful in this version. There are some of hell's inmates that maybe I ought to know--but, sorry, I don't. And there are a few that apparently Mr. Steinzor thinks are so obvious that he doesn't even need to name--this distracts from the story and causes the examples to lose their effect.
This is an interesting book and definitely an ingenious premise. When I was contacted about participating in the blog tour I was very excited. It seemed to me that this would be a wonderful follow up to my reading of Dante's work last fall. It is unfortunate--for me--that it did not quite live up to my expectations. Following in Dante's footsteps is a mighty tall order. Mr. Steinzor makes a very good effort that just doesn't quite hit the mark for me. I do think, however, that it is a book that you should try after reading the original. It is definitely worthwhile to see what a modern day poet makes of a journey through the inferno. And perhaps it may be more on target for you.
Some excerpts that I found especially compelling:
Eternity, therefore, is like an ocean with currents
that swarm and braid and branch and carry
many riders. Like you, each is bound for where he's
going and thinks there's nowhere else.
Or see it this way: when you were a child,
and maybe many times since then,
it delighted you to stand beside an
an unruffled pond and pick out pebbles, the
flatter the better. One by one you'd fling them
skillfully, sidearm, snapping your wrist and
proudly counting the hops. That flat little pebble's the
world of your daily awareness. The pond is
everything else. You fly, you skim, you leap,
you skim that chilly otherness, (p. 43)
choice that love allows is whether to be
open to it; when we let it,
love sees with our eyes.... (p. 95)
[Disclaimer: This book was sent to me as a review copy for the blog tour. My review policy is posted on my blog, but just to reiterate...This review copy was offered to me for impartial review and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments are entirely my own honest opinion.]
Seth’s Remaining Tour StopsThursday, November 10th: Eclectic/Eccentric
This Blog Tour is sponsored by TLC Book Tours