Friday, December 24, 2010

Sandow Birk & Marcus Sanders' "Dante's Purgatorio: Book Review

This follows the pair's illustrated, surfer-Californian speak, pop culture-enriched version of Dante's inferno. That dragged us downscale into a strip-mall, back-alley, gang-tagged, trashed and hellish inner-city if still palm-fringed Los Angeles. The sequel's much more pleasant, befitting the hope that energizes those who work of their sentences and in free verse express their determination to overcome their failings and climb the purgatorial heights that rise in San Francisco.

While St Francis will not appear until Paradiso, an angel or two does. Birk's drawings again evoke a contemporary take on the medieval underworld. I liked the strip club of the Garden of Eden in SF placed here as the entrance into the Earthly Paradise that crowns the mountain, and the three lovely ecsdysiasts who as Faith, Hope, and Charity grace the floor. Added to this, of course, is a zaftig, multiethnic brunette Beatrice in a short black dress, talking to Dante. He's abandoned the backward baseball cap that he wore in the Inferno, and now with his hoodie looks more monkish as well as more relaxed. Virgil still drapes himself in flags as well as mantles, but he guides Dante this time only so far. The rest of the vista will await the finale.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere here, so full of fogs and inclines, fits this NoCal locale. "I felt lighter and looser,/ like I had done some yoga and was ready for a hike." (76) There's a relaxed, optimistic undertone to the whole journey, and enhanced by Brother Michael Meister's preface that explains the odd pageant and mystical references atop the Mount, readers will appreciate this infernal sequel. We get a barefoot Imelda Marcos, an envious Tonya Harding, and Oprah and Elvis among the gluttonous, but the pop culture figures somehow appear less noticeable than those sinners in Birk and Marcus Sanders' hellhole.

Dante's part two-- as with part three-- is often far less read than that raw, wrenching otherworldly predecessor (compare the number of translations, reviews, and ratings!), but I found this Purgatorio stimulating and satisfying as a contemporary rendering of this venerable, very Christian call to repentance and reformation. Birk and Sanders appear at ease as they climb to the summit, and they capture the humanism as well as the dogmatism smoothly. As with their Inferno (also reviewed by me), the notes may have to be accessed from another, more scholarly translation and footnoted edition, but especially for newcomers to Dante, this is a welcome excursion. (Posted to Amazon US 10-24-10 & 10-28-10.)

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