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Book Review: The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

A Perfect Circle

His is a pen of fire with heart’s blood as his only ink.
     -The Dante Club

I rarely give a 5 whenever I evaluate a book, but this thriller deserves all the kudos it can get. The novel is very well-thought out; it certainly reflects how well Matthew Pearl knows his Dante. The plot is quite impeccable; the suspect was really unexpected! When I found out about it, I was very shocked as to why it was that person responsible for all the murders. Though the killer’s reasons are valid and interesting (interesting because the killer’s motivations are very much rooted to the literary context of the novel), they also came off as psychological, and therefore, ordinary. I compare the prose to a picturesque view: the beauty of the way the book was written is something to be deeply appreciated, like a grand view of the sea that needs ample time for someone to able to take it all in. It was slow-paced, yes, but the slowness makes the gradual unfolding of events all the more sweeter to discover. Pearl threw a couple of verses from the Inferno itself, and the Dante Club’s usage of such verses solidified the connection of Dante’s celebrated work with the lives of the members of the Dante Club. In fact, what I like most about the book is that Pearl put meat and bones to the prominent literary personages that are now commonly just referred to as names, personages that have been put on a pedestal to be revered and venerated, but not really known intimately. The book was gripping because I was immensely fascinated in reading about the thoughts and actions of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, J. T. Fields, and James Lowell, however fictional they may be. Such prominent literary figures were the main cast of the novel, and it was just very amusing to see them live their ordinary lives a century ago. Reading about them working, talking as friends, calling for a horsecar, and even just walking around Cambridge somehow breathed life into these literary figures that were only just normally studied in English class. Pearl was able to put them down from the pedestal. In The Dante Club, he not only showed the greatness of Dante, the twisted plot inspired by Dante’s Inferno, but above all, he showed the readers that the prominent members of the Dante Club were really just like the rest of us: ordinary people engaged in mundane things such as family and career. Pearl was able to expertly tie up a ribbon of historical fiction and a brilliant plot. Throughout the novel, I could see how much the historical context of the story influenced the movement of the plot. I give this book a standing ovation because it draws a perfect circle of suspense, gore, history, literature, and greatness.

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Book Review: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom


Life in Death

What simply makes Tuesdays with Morrie a winner is the fact that it’s nonfiction, that it happened in real life. When I was reading about Mitch Albom’s conversations with his former professor, Morrie, I ultimately thought about how these actual tête-à-têtes occurred in real life. This makes the whole plot all the more magical, because usually, when a tearjerker comes out in the market, I always think of cheesy writing styles and melodramatic scenes that seem exaggerated and not too different from any average soap opera. And although some scenes are melodramatic, they are only rightly so, for in truth, death is a tragic affair. Albom was able to capture Morrie’s courage and strength as his body deteriorated gradually. Tuesdays with Morrie does not intend to be dramatic, it just is. And that sets it apart from all the tearjerkers that Nicholas Sparks and Judith McNaught have to offer. Reading this book made me rethink about my priorities, and hours after closing the book for the final time, I was still pondering about its theme. Certainly, it left a deep imprint on me, as it showed how a person’s life is not measured by his age, but by the number of things he has fulfilled and done in such a transitory world. Morrie’s life, and death, showed us one thing: how a person could have a lifetime in such a short while.

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Book Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time


Curiosity Saves the Cat

I opened this book with doubt and reluctance, for I am naturally not a fan of tender stories that tug at your heartstrings with their dramatic flair and saccharine verbiage. But The Curious Incident of the Dog gives you none of that, and this quality of the book- that light, funny, and innocent atmosphere- makes the story of Christopher even more heart-rending. The point of view of the story makes the book uniquely special. It is chronicled and narrated by Christopher, an autistic teenager who is intent on finding out the murderer of his neighbor’s dog. The story was narrated cleanly and simply, which adds to the fact that all Christopher writes is the truth. All that is deemed to be chronicled are only those that he observed with his very eyes, and those that he felt and learned. The objectivity of the way Christopher feels and thinks provokes such emotion in me because I could see how different he is from normal people. The book opened me to the idea of what sets autistic people from the rest of the world. The author was able to show that Christopher does not have a different world, but a different way of seeing the world. The world for him should be a fruit of logic and objectivity. This accounts for the fact that throughout the novel, there are bits and pieces of trivia, as Christopher is fond of showing people that life is like a math equation. The readers are not let in on his world, because he has no separate, delusional world, but he lets readers people to see with new eyes, with his eyes. Surprisingly, as his curiosity compels him to find out who killed the dog and make the pieces fit, he realizes the cold brutality of  his discovery, not just about Mrs.  Shear’s pet, but also about his own life. Uncovering the truth though, is only half of the whole experience. It is actually about how Christopher, an autistic child, reacts to and faces the truths laid bare before him that make this novel a staple in every bookworm’s personal collection.

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