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In a Dark Wood

What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love

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About the Book

When you lose your whole world in a moment, where do you turn?

On a cold November morning, Joseph Luzzi, a Dante scholar and professor at Bard College, found himself racing to the hospital—his wife, Katherine, eight-and-a-half months pregnant, had been in a horrible car accident. In one terrible instant, Luzzi became both a widower and a first-time father.

In the aftermath of unthinkable tragedy, Luzzi relied on the support of his Italian immigrant family, returning to his childhood home to grieve and care for his infant daughter. But it wasn't until he turned to The Divine Comedy—a poem he had devoted his life to studying and teaching—that he learned how to resurrect his life. Following the same structure as Dante's epic poem, Luzzi is shepherded out of his own "dark wood," passing through the grief-stricken Inferno, the Purgatory of healing, and ultimately stepping into the Paradise of rediscovered love.

Beautifully written, poignant, insightful, and unflinchingly honest, In a Dark Wood is a hybrid of heartrending memoir and a meditation on the power of great art to give us strength in our darkest moments. Drawing us into hell and back, it is Dante's journey, Joseph Luzzi's, and our very own.

About the Author

Joseph Luzzi

Joseph Luzzi holds a doctorate from Yale and teaches at Bard. He is the author of My Two Italies, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy, which won the Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies from the Modern Language Association. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Bookforum, and the Times Literary Supplement.


“…achingly beautiful… —Entertainment Weekly

“Compelling” —Providence Journal

“Heartfelt memoir… [told with] raw and unguarded candor.” —New York Times Book Review

“Luzzi has written a memoir that is at once inspiring and fascinating. Beautifully written, with humor as well as depth, this book is a must for all serious readers.” —Hudson Valley News

“Luzzi’s new memoir transforms unthinkable tragedy into literary gold. More than simply a memoir of mourning, In a Dark Wood testifies to the life-giving importance of literature and what it has to teach us.” —BookPage.com

“Powerful and indispensable, Joseph Luzzi unites emotion and ideas in a work that defies categorization, except for the category marked ‘brilliant.’ If every academic wrote like this, the humanities would be prospering.” —Gary Shteyngart, New York Times bestselling author of Little Failure and Super Sad True Love Story

“The book soared when Luzzi used Dante’s words to explain how grief made him feel.” —Salon

“A forthright chronicle of emergence from darkness.” Kirkus Reviews

“A heartfelt memoir…[Luzzi’s] is a quest so universal that we can all fin ourselves in his struggle.” —Christian Science Monitor

“An engrossing struggle to build a life after enormous personal loss and the luminous power of literature to transform sorrow’s exile into a kind of blessing.” —New York Journal of Books

“Heartbreaking. Heartrending. Heart-stopping.” —Vanity Fair

“In his memoir...Luzzi adopts Dante’s journey as his own. He writes about the long, difficult path through the hell of grief in search of healing, [exploring] the power that Dante’s poetry still holds for modern audiences.” —The Thread, MPR News

“Joseph Luzzi lived through something terrible, and has made something beautiful. In a Dark Wood is a memoir of love and loss; but more than that, it is a powerful testimony to the consolation—even salvation—that an engagement with great literature can supply.” —Rebecca Mead, author of My Life in Middlemarch

“Luzzi honestly grapples with profound questions about being a man and father in this very literary and very personal work.” Publishers Weekly

“Luzzi’s story is intensely personal, but holds universal appeal for anyone who has experienced love and loss. As he grasps blindly for routes out of his personal underworld, both he and the reader discover that only a change of mind and heart can open the way to love and fulfillment.” Booklist

“This is not an academic book about Dante. It’s an elegant and moving memoir of one man’s journey through grief and finally back to life.” —Albany Times Union

“You say you’ve not read The Divine Comedy…. It doesn’t matter. Luzzi writes with the economy and flair of a novelist…[and] makes it all personal when he twines his historical analysis…with his own dark emotional terrain.” Chronogram