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Dante's Purgatorio

Sandow Birk & Marcus Sanders translation with illustrations, 2005

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San Francisco as Mount Purgatory: surfer-speak but respectful version-- with lovely art

  • Oct 29, 2010
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.

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About the reviewer
John L. Murphy ()
Ranked #48
Medievalist turned humanities professor; unrepentant but not unskeptical Fenian; overconfident accumulator of books & music; overcurious seeker of trivia, quadrivia, esoterica.      … more
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About this book


Following the acclaim for their innovative edition of Dante's Inferno, Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders guide us to the next level of the afterlife in Dante's Purgatorio. The second book of Dante Alighieri's classic poem The Divine Comedy, this version of Purgatorio couples a clever literary adaptation incorporating modern urban speech and contemporary references with powerful illustrations inspired by Gustave Doré's famous engravings. Whereas Inferno was primarily situated in a city that bears a curious resemblance to modern Los Angeles, Purgatorio is set in a surreal San Francisco Bay Area, an outlandish and hopeful milieu for those who have a chance to wash their sins away. Together, the sardonic yet playful combination of text and images comprise a vivid retelling of this masterpiece. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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ISBN-10: 0811847195

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