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Book Reviews by Reading Program Participants

by Dante Alighieri

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I first heard about "La Vita Nuova" in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. I looked for a copy everywhere and couldn't find one (this was back in the early days of the internet). Then the other day, I randomly stumbled upon a copy on Audible and thought back to my quest... and I just had to get it. Now that I've sat down with it, I first have to note how strange this book is. Dante narrates how he falls in love with a woman named Beatrice, how he hides it, how it is discovered, ...and well, spoilers (even though this was written in the 13th century). I already had some inclinations about the whole thing based on "The Divine Comedy" (where Beatrice has a cameo), but still... without Wikipedia I wouldn't have caught why he couldn't just approach her. Anyways, Dante and Beatrice are often held up (even today) as some kind of romantic ideal (of courtly love), but you know what - it's actually really creepy. He falls in love with her when they are 9. He talks to her maybe twice. He spends excessive energy trying to hide his feelings from her. And out of their sparse interaction, he decides that she's perfect and is the love of his life and makes her the heroine of his major works (even after he marries another woman, apparently). Think about this... what do you call a guy who sees a woman twice then does everything he can to be at places where he knows he will see her? He doesn't plan on ever approaching her and goes into excessive crying fits over her. He thinks he loves her when he doesn't even know her. Bro... Dante's a classic stalker. I'm so glad that he couldn't and didn't pursue her. There is no way that it would have ended well for her. Putting that tidbit aside, the work is written in an unusual style. It's all the poems he wrote about Beatrice in his "LiveJournal" connected by explanatory narrative. Then after each poem, he notes how he divided it into stanzas and how he chose to write in vernacular (Italian instead of Latin)... and other technical notes. It's strange, but it becomes rapidly addictive. I read it all in one sitting. He tells a years-long love story through poems and then provides technical notes (which is weird) that end up having great historical value. This short work will not be everyone's cup of tea. In fact, I can't say that I "love it" per se. However, I got a lot out of reading it. It provides an interesting window into history, crazy men, and some unique poetic constructions. Also, it fulfilled a kind of personal journey for me, and even reminds me of my husband and I in a couple of places (but without all the stalking). I'd say that anyone should give this book a try. You might like it or be confused by it.
Reviewed by Mizanthropist