The Dante Club, by Matthew Pearl.
Essentially a book within a book. This novel, set in the 1800s, is a fictional portrayal of real people who were involved in the translation of Dante’s Inferno. This was work dedicated to Dante Alighieri’s belief that he’d been on a journey through various layers of hell, witnessing punishments exacted on those who supposedly deserved it. Many of the punishments described in his works were on people he’d known throughout his life. The novel by Pearl explores the bonds of professional and personal relationships, crime, race, war, and literature.
I find books like this so hard to put down. Whilst learning about Dante and his works, historical figures, war efforts, and issues around the anti-slavery movements, I’m also exploring the possible effects that some texts may have on damaged minds. These zealots could twist the messages an author presents, and take it upon themselves to reenact scenes described in the belief that they are “protecting”. 367 pages describing the fictional adventure of a small group of poets, professors, and one “mulatto” officer, in a race to stop a murderer punishing more men of Boston, with Dante as inspiration.
What I love most, is the characters feel real. They are flawed; they have families, histories, troubles, and often disagreements. But Matthew Pearl had plucked them from their place in history and given them breath and substance. Characters grow and change, becoming more the men they wish they were at the beginning.
Pearl’s extensive knowledge of the subjects at hand is apparent too, and there’s a passion that compels you to keep reading. To see, and understand more.
I honestly have no criticisms of this work, as I enjoyed it immensely. It’s well paced, lots of information rammed in, numerous plot twists and well thought out developments. The only reason I wouldn’t recommend it is if you’d rather read “easy” books. Pearl’s work is based on literature, and throws in many intellectual arguments to consider along the way. There are also graphic descriptions of brutal murders and torture. I don’t feel it’s a difficult book to read, but it does require concentration as you’ll need to follow the various twists and turns; to pick up on little pieces of information littered like a breadcrumb trail.
A fabulously thrilling story, in my opinion.