I just finished Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club for my book club. In a nutshell, real-life writers Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and James Russell Lowell and publisher James Thomas Fields, are friends set on translating Dante's The Inferno into English. They love the poem and are convinced that the publication of an English translation in America will be an incredible moment for literature. However, the head of Harvard believes The Inferno is barbaric and will stop at seemingly nothing to stop the translation from being completed. Meanwhile, someone is killing Boston's elite in gruesome ways mirroring the punishments described in The Inferno. Lowell, Holmes, Wadsworth, and Fields set out to stop the killings.
Overall, reading the book was a chore and I can't recommend it. The pace is glacial, the writing is cumbersome, and I had trouble accepting the central conceit of the book - - that the publication of an English translation of The Inferno was a huge deal:
"I worry though, with the inflated prices printing a book such as this . . . I must ask, can your Dante overcome whatever Manning and Harvard plan to put in it's way?
Green's hands shook as he raised them in the air. "If it were possible to convey an accurate idea of Dante in a single word, Mr. Houghton, that word would be power."
On the positive side, the book did a good job of making Longfellow (pictured above) seem like a pretty cool guy. I learned more about Boston in 1865 from this book than I ever learned in school (and I doubt I'll forget this knowledge right after an exam). And I really became fond of the four main heroes. At one point Lowell expresses a wonderful sentiment:
"Believe that once I am a man's friend I am always so - - nor is it so very hard to bring me to it. And though a man may enjoy himself in being my enemy, he cannot make me his for longer than I wish."
If you really like murder mysteries or historical fiction, you'll probably like this book. You can find it at Amazon. If you're interested in what books I do like, I most recently enjoyed Un Lun Dun, and you can see a list of some of my other favorites in the Amazon widget in the sidebar.
One other complaint, and stop reading here because this is a spoiler. The various villains in the book are the head of Harvard, the police, Union soldiers, a priest, a judge, and a wealthy man. I am so tired of books that express that message. It's pathetic that so many popular movies, books, etc portray the most successful people as the most evil.