Luzzi's wife Katherine was eight and a half months pregnant when she was hit and killed in an automobile accident. Although doctors could not save her life, they could save the baby, delivering tiny Isabel by emergency caesarean. Luzzi had been looking forward to becoming a father, despite the fact that his own father did not give him a model he wanted to follow in his own parenting. But when he loses Katherine, he is too overcome with grief to take care of Isabel, giving her over to the care of his old-world Calabrian mother and sisters, plunging himself into work to distract himself from the pain of loss. Luckily his work is on Dante, author of one of history's most famous lost love's laments and ultimately a guide to helping Luzzi come to terms with his unwanted and unlooked for vita nuova (new life).
The deeply personal memoir of loss, grief, and longing is intricately intertwined with Luzzi's literary exploration of Dante, especially as Dante's loss of his beloved Beatrice mirrored Luzzi's own journey through his loss of Katherine and the exile he feels from his own life. Dante's journey through the underworld, purgatory, and ultimately into paradise, is mirrored by Luzzi's years of struggle to come out the other side of his own dark wood of deep and paralyzing grief. He looked to Dante to help him understand how it is possible to still love someone who has become incorporeal, gone from this world forever. Luzzi finds some solace in the parallels he finds in Dante but the book cannot show him how to be a father. From the very beginning, he has an inability to connect with Isabel because of being emotionally frozen to protect against the overwhelming agony that his wife's death carries for him. And in Katherine's absence as Isabel's flesh and blood mother, Luzzi does not know how he should father this baby, this toddler, this child either.
As he addresses his own despair, he pulls directly from Dante's writing and life experiences, weaving the literary and the personal tightly together. His own life is an illustration of Dante's journey. Or perhaps Dante's journey is an illustration of Luzzi's life. His writing about his own life is raw but the literary analysis, while reinforcing the shared experience, helps make the emotion a little less overwhelming to the reader. Luzzi spares nothing in opening up about his loneliness and his floundering as a father. He is honest about the failures at moving on in his life, wanting to replicate the family that was forever lost with Katherine's death, one that truly perhaps never quite existed in the first place. But Dante doesn't just teach him about death, pushing him to the purgatory of healing and the paradise of love as well. As Luzzi says, "every grief story is a love story" and this is certainly that. It's a wrenching tale skillfully told, literate and accessible both.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.