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This week I would like to revisit an earlier blog about the first book of The Divine Comedy, which Dante Alighieri completed early in the 14th century. By the time of his death in September of 1321, he had completed the third part, Paradiso, published posthumously.


Are you wondering how this is relevant in 2024? I can only hope you watched an amazing PBS two-part presentation (two hours each night) of Dante’s Divine Comedy. If you missed it this past week, search PBS Passport. It is an enactment I want to see and to read again. (Do put on the captions!)


The following words were ones I wrote in 2023 to the delight of some and the outrage of others.


Have we not heard ‘fraud’ lately, this word with its origin in Middle English? Hasn’t the word resonated outward from New York City? The legal F word as it were. But only D words for the deplorable, despicable, disreputable, disgraceful man on trial for fraud. A demon with a Sharpie, not the sword of Dante’s demon who perpetually circles Scandal and Schism in the ninth ring of the 8th circle. After the 8th, the 9th circle leads to the Pit (or Well) of Hell. What a place it is, with its four rings, all named under the title, Treachery, about traitors to homeland, political party, guests, and benefactors.


Please understand that I’ve skipped the first seven circles of Hell. But I will name them. Limbo, The Lustful, The Gluttonous, The Avaricious & Prodigal, the Wrathful & Sullen, and The Violent. The latter ring includes murderers & tyrants, and those against neighbors, themselves (suicides) and possessions (squanderers).


It is the 8th circle titled Fraud that interests me. Yet the name given to it, which takes in all its rings, is Malebolge. Word 11 does not recognize this word, though the OED does. This word describes the 8th circle of hell as consisting of ten rock-bound concentric, circular trenches. As used in the past, malebolge meant a hellish place or condition. Maybe we ought to bring the word back as an apt description for Congress. Take a few minutes and study the list of those in the 8th circle of Hell. We recognize all of them, don’t we? Maybe not Simonists from Dante’s time, and the selling of ecclesiastical privileges. But think of the Big D selling presidential pardons. Look at each of the ten rings and get a visual image to match them. I see fraudulent counselors down there in Georgia admitting their guilt. I await Rudy sweating more dark dye. Falsifiers of Metals, Persons, Coins, and Words makes me think of Sam the Bit Coin Man! Please share with me some of your thoughts after seeing this diagram of the Inferno.( I enjoy messages from readers.)



Oh, Dante Alighieri, I won’t forget being in Ravenna in the early 1980s and standing in the crypt that contains your remains. Forget bones. You left us The Divine Comedy, and I mean to read it all this time, beginning with the Inferno by Allen Mandelbaum, whose translation is called, “The English Dante of choice.”  


Until next week and thoughts on Marilynn Robinson’s latest book.

 

 

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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

Current issues of The Atlantic, Commonweal, and The New Yorker have articles on Robinson’s latest book, a non-fiction work on Genesis. 


Marilynne Robinson

Call me Ms. Antiquated: I still subscribe to fine magazines and periodicals like the London Review of Books. But I’ve not forgotten the early winter of 2005, when three months of mail arrived from Lima, Peru, Mike’s last State Department posting. My happiness then, on a bitterly cold day, was seeing back issues of The Atlantic. This is when I first heard about the writer, Marilynn Robinson.


At the time I was alone in a tiny cottage in the Northern Neck of Virginia, husband Mike in Indonesia for U.N. work after the devastating late December 2004 Tsunami. Given our household goods were in State Department storage, and I was without my library, I unwisely accepted an assignment with Americas (OAS magazine) for an article on a Peruvian sculptor, Carlos Runcie Tanaka. 

Carlos Runcie Tanaka

A terrible idea because language was as frozen in me as the ice-covered ground outside the cottage. Yet I had three issues of The Atlantic. That’s when I read about Marilynn Robinson’s new novel, which after her two-decade-plus absence from fiction, was big literary news. Why had I not heard of this writer and her Pen-Hemingway award-winning novel, Housekeeping? I suppose because I had been in West Germany from 1980-83 and read only the International Herald. 


That January day in 2005, I learned Robinson’s second novel had been published, an epistolary work called Gilead. Given I believe ardently in life’s Three C’s, I was not surprised what happened that same day. I decided to visit the Northumberland Library in Heathsville. What did I see when I walked in? A small section of used books for sale. What was there in hardcover, still wearing its book jacket? Housekeeping! 

I paid one dollar for it, filled out a form for a library card, then returned to the cottage. I opened the sofa bed and began reading. When early darkness came, I turned on lights, finished the novel, then turned to the first page and began again, reading slowly, hearing each word of this writer’s lyrical prose.  I thank Marilynn Robinson for reopening a closed gate, which allowed me to write the article on Carlos and one on adopting a roadway for my father, which won more than one writing award. What are the fragments for except to be rejoined, which is what Carlos in Lima did with shards of pottery.

 

Robinson’s narrator, Ruth, asks: “What Are All These Fragments For, If Not to Be Knit Up Finally?”

The first four words of Housekeeping are, “My name is Ruth.” She asks this question years after she leaves Fishbone, a remote Northwestern town, located on a mysterious, glacial lake.  I should say a holy trinity of lakes, and a town with floods out of Genesis, not to mention a passenger train sliding off the town’s bridge into the lake like a weasel, leaving behind a mystery, like so much in Robinson’s first novel.  It is one to read multiple times, as is her quartet: Gilead, Home, Lila, and Jack. 

Ilona, my film-savvy webmaster, says the movie of Housekeeping is not one to see.  But I await a series, something as fine as Brideshead Revisited, of Robinson’s characters in Gilead, Iowa, and other locations from her literary quartet.

 

Next week: Reflections on a March 20th Marilynn Robinson podcast from New York City

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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

Those who have read my latest book, Tennis Talk of a Nobody, will know it weaves life’s three C’s: chance, circumstance, and connection.



This photo was taken on March 4th at Dallas-Fort Worth. I arrived there from Southern California’s small and manageable Santa Ana airport.  Not so at Dallas with its speed train and multiple terminals. And the gate for my flight to Richmond kept changing: A to C, back to A, again to C. At one point I stopped to consult a big board above my head and heard a woman’s voice behind me. “May I help you?” A tiny woman in a volunteer ambassador’s uniform said she could check my flight if I gave her my boarding pass. Which I did. I thanked her and left.

What I needed to do was let husband Mike know I’d reached Dallas. Before the first flight I’d shut down my “simple” Consumer Cellular phone. But when I turned it back on, flipped it open and hit “contacts,” I got a message about airplane mode.  I knew my husband, the pilot, would say, “Did you troubleshoot the problem?”  Yes, I fiddled around until I gave up, unable to make a call. That’s when I remembered the kind ambassador and scuttled back to her. 

 “This is supposed to be an easy phone for seniors,” she said. So they say.  She fooled around with it, then said, “I’ll ask someone young!” She flagged down a young woman in the busy corridor.” Ah, youth. She met the challenge and proudly announced, “I’ve turned off airplane mode.” We both thanked her. That’s when I looked at the ambassador’s name tag.

 “Lee Lee, if you don’t mind me asking, what is your country of origin?” With delight, I heard, “Malaysia.” I told her that I’d lived in Kuala Lumpur on Jalan U Thant from 1987 to 1990.  I asked when she had left, and then learned she had accepted a contract as a mid-wife to the U.K., later accepted a position as a nurse in the USA. That’s when she met her husband, an airman from Hawaii, who was stationed at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio.

            Really? I’d lived there in 1968 after marrying a USAF student- pilot. Had he fought in the Vietnam war? she asked.  Yes, and so had her husband. At that point she sent a text to Mike, then showed me a photo of her two daughters. One named Michelle!  I dug out an actual photograph of my Michelle, and said that I, too, had a second daughter.  Why had I been in California, Lee Lee asked?  To talk to an old friend’s book club about my latest book.  Really? I learned she is in a writing group and hopes to see her memoir published this year. At this point in our conversation, she flagged down another woman and asked if she would take a photo of us.  She already had Mike’s number and sent the photo to him.

                                                       



            I did not tell Lee Lee about the multiple connections with a woman in the book club I’d attended days earlier. What were the chances I would meet someone who had done business for years in Venezuela and Colombia, mined gold in Peru (three countries where I’d spent a decade)? More than this, she has a house in the Napa Valley (my haunt for another decade), and her nephew, a retired Major General, is someone my daughter knows from the U.S. army.  Best of all, this woman and I are USC graduates. There is even more related to the South for both of us, where she worked for 15 years and where I’ve lived since late 2004.  

            What’s my point? That I am renewed by each encounter with Life’s Three C’s. I returned home from this six-day trip in time for the first meeting of the 2024 RCC-RILL book club. We had a fine discussion of Marilynn Robinson’s Housekeeping.  That’s for next week.

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