Joseph Luzzi, In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love (2015)
Midway through his life’s journey, Joseph Luzzi found himself in a forest of seemingly impenetrable darkness. His pregnant wife, Katherine, had died as the result of a car accident, shortly after delivering their daughter Isabel by emergency caesarean. Unprepared for sudden single fatherhood, Luzzi wrapped himself in grief and in his work as a professor of Italian at Bard College, largely leaving the raising of Isabel to his close-knit Calabrian family. But as he shuttled back and forth between Bard and the childhood home in Rhode Island that he thought he’d left behind for academia, he found that his lifelong study of Dante’s Divine Comedy was speaking to the most urgent questions of his life. Heeding its message, he struggled to lift himself out of hell and into a new understanding of the real meaning of love.
In this memoir of his years of struggling through darkness into the light, structured around the three parts of Dante’s masterpiece (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso), Luzzi writes with honesty and hard-gained self knowledge. He takes us along on his journey from the self-absorption of hell, through the purgatory of learning to forgive and trust again, and into the acceptance of responsibility that is the gateway to heaven and the only sure foundation for healthy relationships. His style is simple and direct, never pretentious or preachy, and allows us to enter into his story as if hearing it from a close friend. Without attempting to approach the artistic summits of his literary guide, Luzzi adds a humble footnote to the truths of the great epic: yes, this is part of what it means to be human.
Luzzi doesn’t spend as much time on Dante as I expected, based on his title. He chooses a few key moments and characters that provided him with illumination, as well as some aspects of the poet’s life, but most of the narrative has to do with his own experiences, feelings, and thoughts. Given that these do fall into the archetypal pattern of the Commedia, descending into the ultimate pit of suffering as a necessary step toward true integration, the connection is valid enough.
I feel that my own experience has been enlarged through Luzzi’s willingness to articulate both his suffering and his joy, and am grateful that he opened his heart to share these difficult lessons with us.
This is the final stop on the TLC Book Tour for In a Dark Wood. Click on the link for more information on the tour.