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In the Hand of Dante: A Novel Hardcover – September 4, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Deftly blending the sacred and the profane, Tosches boldly casts himself as the protagonist in his latest novel, an outrageously ambitious book in which he procures a purloined version of the original manuscript of The Divine Comedy while tracing Dante's journey as Dante struggled to complete his penultimate work. The initial chapters find Tosches looking back and questioning the results of his fascinating life and career, with a brief but devastating aside about the decline of publishing. But Tosches suddenly emerges from his morbid nostalgia when a former character named Louie (a gangster from Tosches's Cut Numbers) gets his hands on a stolen copy of Dante's manuscript and asks Tosches to authenticate it. That sends the author on a whirlwind tour to Arizona, Chicago, Paris and then London as he tries to verify the work and then determine its worth on the open market. The subplot involving Dante's journey is flat and stale by comparison, despite some impeccable scholarship by Tosches as he chronicles the great poet's efforts and setbacks. Tosches's sense of the shock value of his story line doesn't waver, and there's never a dull moment as he opines about modern culture, the Mob, the Oprah Book Club, Zen editing and the joy of being edited, September 11, the artistic process and anything else that happens to hop into his head for a few pages. The ending is a bit of a letdown, but fans of the one-man literary show that is Nick Tosches will doubtless love this book. Overall, it remains incomplete as a novel because of Tosches's inability to bring Dante to life as a character, although the author's admiration for him as a creative force results in a number of compelling passages.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Dante's original manuscript for The Divine Comedy is the catalyst for Tosches's schizophrenic yet at times brilliant novel, synthesizing history and biography with contemporary murder and mayhem to create an exotic meal of a book, albeit one for strong stomachs. The book alternates between two different worlds: 14th-century Italy, where Dante Alighieri searches for the perfect inspiration to complete his masterwork, and 21st-century New York, where murderous thugs seek to profit from the recently unearthed manuscript, thought to be lost to the ages. Enter Tosches, a student of Dante's work and a go-between for the mob; his quest to authenticate the book takes a turn that his conspirators can't predict, and he has plans of his own for the tome. What makes the novel special is Tosches himself, who examines his own life, weary philosophy, and creative inspiration in his usual in-your-face style. In one fascinating aside, the author rants about monopolistic publishing houses, effectively biting the hand that feeds him. As with any Tosches book, a reader's willingness to embrace the dark side and all that it entails is essential. However, behind the grunge lies a fascinating study of the power of writing and the relative value applied to it. The fact that the cynical Tosches doesn't provide easy answers only adds more provocation. Highly recommended.
--Marc Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 377 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown; 1st edition (September 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0641604483
  • ISBN-13: 978-0641604485
  • ASIN: 0316895245
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,081,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Jerry Roth on April 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book is a promise unfulfilled, and not worth the sacrifice it takes a reader to get through it. The modern day plot line, intentionally written to offend with coarse language and imagery, promises an examination of how the corrupt publishing world, dominated by mediocrity, will react to the discovery of the original manuscript of the Divine Comedy in a Vatican store room. But all we get instead are the expressions of awe by literary experts and shoot-outs among the crooks trying to sell the manuscript. The historical plot line, following Dante as he struggles with God and Nature to complete the work, also fails to deliver. It is written in an egotistically overblown style in which every word is latinized (never "begin", always "commence") and adjectives and nouns are routinely converted into pretentious verbs (e.g., "he cruelled his wife"), a trick Dante mastered and Tosches hasn't. The plot falls flat with a dull "twist" at the end about the true authorship of the work that has little to do with the rest of the story and a trite meeting between Dante and an Arabic sage who is supposed to know the meaning of life but who basically tells him nothing. Tosches grasps at an all encompassing world view that accounts for the interplay of the three great religions from the beginning of time to 9/11 (which actually plays a minor and unnecessary role in the plot) but the accomplishment eludes him. The main lesson you come away with is how impressed Tosches is with himself, what he's written (all his prior works get an airing this time around) and what he's learned about classics. Gratuitous profanity does not save this book from bombastic pedantry. Peccato.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Jolley HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 29, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read Nick Tosches' In the Hand of Dante a month or two ago, and I've been putting off this review ever since. Actually, I wasn't even sure I wanted to attempt a review because my opinions of the novel are rather ambivalent and, frankly, I didn't get a whole lot out of the experience. This is the kind of book that makes me think I should like it more than I actually do. After all, it's literary and deep (sometimes) and brought to life by a true wordsmith. Honestly, though, I found myself floundering through many a section of the story, and I've already forgotten more than I ever knew about what I was reading.

On the one hand, you've got the author inserting himself into the story as the protagonist. Due to his association with some shady, underground, fairly despicable people, he ultimately gets his hands on a long-lost original copy of Dante's The Divine Comedy. This is where the action of the book can be found, replete with lots of adults-only language, a few doses of brutality, and the blood of a string of murder victims. Alongside this story, however, is Tosches' take on Dante's own journey - seeking to tap into something deep and eternal, I guess. As I said, I got very little at all out of this section of the book. It moves along at a glacial pace, sells out to pretentiousness early on, and made the simple turning of each page something of an internal struggle. It doesn't help that Tosches apparently sought to use every word in the dictionary at least once, resulting in literary speed bump after speed bump. I'm an intelligent, well-educated fellow, and I was constantly running up against words I could not define (and had I chosen to seek out the definition of each one, I would surely still be trying to finish this novel all these weeks later).
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Gianna on September 12, 2010
Format: Paperback
Well, I can only imagine what those who give this book a one star might accuse me of - but this is my absolute number one all time favorite book. To each his own, evidentemente. No, I am not 12, no I am not a mob hit man, no, no. But the prose is something I need to read out loud to appreciate and it takes my breath away. The brutality is stunning and crushingly disturbing; but serves a purpose as a counterpoint to the lyrical and sweetened prose: decay/ripeness. It's Caravaggio. It's chiaroscuro. It is brilliant, and curiously self conscious and I find it beyond compelling. Tosches, I believe, knows exactly when he is pulling your heartstrings, and knows exactly when he is asking too much. I would think repeatedly, "but, you can't just leave that on the page.." Exactly.

A story: I suggested this book to my book club, with disclaimers of, "you'll be offended", "you'll be incensed" but "stick with it, it's worth it". They, an educated group of architects, refused to finish it and told me they thought I was sick for choosing it. Except for the husband of one, a writer, who got ahold of it and devoured it. He later told me it was the best book the book club ever was exposed to and it was their loss.

If life were all pretty, this book would be nauseating. But life is a compilation. As is this. This is a deliberately provocative and achingly sad treatise about human motivation. Suck it up/soak it up.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Derek Mistelske on December 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Suffice to say, this isn't your typical book. Tosches is something totally different all together. He is such an amazing and talented writer, I would bet my life that he could take the take the story of the three-little-pigs, and weave it into a work of art. However, due to his obvious ego, he certainly doesn't give a damn about his readers. Sure, he appreciates those that enjoy his work, but he couldn't care less about those that don't. This is obvious in the first chapter. It seems as though he did everything he could to repulse and offend the reader -- just to see if that person was a true fan, and if he or she had the guts to stick around for more. I can easily picture Tosches himself saying, "You can't take it? Get the hell out."
Give the book a chance. The first chapter is harsh, but the story is genius.
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