While a Kirkus Review item on Prue Shaw’s Dante book praises Shaw for showing us the genius of Dante’s work, there’s something else I’d like to mention — more of an aside than anything else — that is just as worthy as her assessment of that mighty poem.
The poet’s biography, embedded in the lines.
Not the major elements of his biography — not his encounters with actual friends and family members, enough’s said about that — I’m thinking more of stray, little bits that dramatically illustrate his own circumstances.
One is especially moving to me, my friends. Maybe it will be to you, too.
Well, we wouldn’t have Shakespeare’s sonnets if plague hadn’t closed all the London theaters; we wouldn’t have Henry James’ novels (a mixed blessing) if he’d struck gold as a playwright; and we definitely wouldn’t have Dante’s “Comedy” if the poet hadn’t been driven out of Florence.
In other words, misfortune’s often been the handmaiden to great art.
That last example is taken from Prue Shaw, whose recent book “Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity” (Liveright/W.W. Norton) achieves what seemed impossible — to provide a fresh assessment of the poet and his poem for modern readers.
Of the Roth triumvirate (Philip, Joseph, and Henry), Henry usually gets overshadowed by the other two.
After all, how can a maker of bildungsroman tales compete with portraits of a failing empire or the romantic uses of a piece of liver?
Well, the work of Henry Roth — lyric chronicler of childhood in Call It Sleep — will have yet another chance to snag more readers nearly twenty years after his death in 1995.
The top editor at W.W. Norton tells me that a single-volume version of Roth’s epic, Mercy of a Rude Stream — published as four books, A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park, A Diving Rock on the Hudson, From Bondage, and Requiem for Harlem — is coming soon under one cover.
I can’t say if this will be an edited, reimagined work in the same way that Peter Mathiessen retold his Watson trilogy as one book, Shadow Country, or Nicholas Delbanco revised and amplified his New England trilogy into Sherbrookes …. but let’s just say that any opportunity to read Roth with fresh eyes and see his name (hopefully) prominently displayed in your local bookstore is welcome news.