Inferno: Book summary and reviews of Inferno by Dante Alighieri

Inferno

A New Translation

by Dante Alighieri

Inferno by Dante Alighieri
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2012
    352 pages
    Genre: Poetry

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Book Summary

An innovative and fascinating new version of Dante's Inferno as it has never been rendered.

Stopped mid-motion in the middle
Of what we call a life, I looked up and saw no sky -
Only a dense cage of leaf, tree, and twig. I was lost.
   - from Canto I

Award-winning poet Mary Jo Bang has translated the Inferno into English at a moment when popular culture is so prevalent that it has even taken Dante, author of the fourteenth century epic poem, The Divine Comedy, and turned him into an action-adventure video game hero.

Dante, a master of innovation, wrote his poem in the vernacular, rather than in literary Latin. Bang has similarly created an idiomatically rich contemporary version that is accessible, musical, and audacious. She's matched Dante's own liberal use of allusion and literary borrowing by incorporating literary and cultural references familiar to contemporary readers: Shakespeare and Dickinson, Freud and South Park, Kierkegaard and Stephen Colbert.

The Inferno - the allegorical story of a spiritual quest that begins in a dark forest, traverses Hell's nine circles, and ends at the hopeful edge of purgatory - was also an indictment of religious hypocrisy and political corruption. In its time, the poem was stunningly new. Bang's version is true to the original: lyrical, politically astute, occasionally self-mocking, and deeply moving. With haunting illustrations by Henrik Drescher, this is the most readable Inferno available in English, a truly remarkable achievement. 

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Reviews

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"Starred Review. Bang has done for Dante's most famous poem something akin to what Baz Luhrmann did for Shakespeare in his 1996 film of Romeo and Juliet: updated the presentation of a classic for a contemporary sensibility without sacrificing its timelessness... This will be the Dante for the next generation." - Publishers Weekly

"For readers already familiar with Dante, this is a rich, playful, and insightful poetic reading, true to the spirit if not the word." - Library Journal

"This new translation of the Inferno, now straight narrative, now lyric, now echoing a phrase from one of a 'many-headed multitude' of other poets, offers at once Mary Jo Bang's own recurring poetic voice, a delectation of other voices from our poetic past, and the wealth of information in her many careful notes: it is a fresh and ingenious new incarnation of Dante's ever-captivating story, and from one line to the next a constantly rewarding pleasure to read." - Lydia Davis

"Bang uses anachronisms when they'll add some punch - hell's hot wind is like a 'massive crimson camera flash' - but it's still Dante, wordy, guilty and full of splinters that don't come out. Hell is where Bang went after her National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Elegy, about the death of her son, and her Inferno is a classic recast for our age, a hell we'll find ourselves in, an old poem made new by one of our most surprising and innovative poets." - Craig Morgan Teicher, National Public Radio

"Mary Jo Bang's Inferno is an astute and subtle reading of Dante that brilliantly reflects the inexhaustible capaciousness of The Divine Comedy. Dante's great poem has everything in it, and Mary Jo's Inferno does too. Her accurate, deeply pondered translation translates - carries over - Dante into her own world, and ours. It is richly, provocatively, movingly alive." - Jonathan Galassi

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Dante Alighieri (c.1265-1321) is the author of The Divine Comedy, a masterpiece of world literature.

Mary Jo Bang is the author of six books of poetry, including Elegy, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.

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