To Join the Lost by Seth Steinzor

When Trish at TLC Book Tours contacted me about a modern Inferno, I practically squealed with excitement. I mean, it just sounds so cool. Right? So when I got To Join the Lost  in the mail, I was beyond excited to read it, so I opened it up immediately. Then I proceeded to read exactly one page and put it down. I kept staring at the date looming on the calendar; I knew I was going to have to pick up To Join the Lost, but the excitement was gone. Turns out, I don’t think To Join the Lost is particularly cool or innovative. I do think it took a lot of hard work and I do admire it, but I didn’t enjoy it.

When I read Dante’s Inferno, it had a huge impact on me. Apart from the horrendous memorization quizzes we were assigned, where we had to read two or three cantos and then just fill in the missing words, Inferno made a lasting impression on me with its scenes of absolute terror. Maybe it was the translation, but the text didn’t seem dated, it seemed fresh and interesting. The idea of a modern day Inferno with modern day characters seems like such a good idea, and I still think there’s hope for it, but surprisingly, the problem with To Join the Lost is that it doesn’t stray enough from the source material.

Let’s start off with what’s good about To Join the Lost. There is some good writing in here. I marked several passages that I really enjoyed. They’re funny and the references that I actually got were great. I don’t fault Steinzor for making references that I won’t understand; that in and of itself is part of Dante’s Inferno, but it didn’t necessarily make for great reading. I wish Steinzor had included the annotations he decided to leave out, as he explains in the Afterword. Like most translations of Inferno, Steinzor’s verse is blank verse, but I wish it would have been a little more even. There are times when he uses very “poetic” language and times when he uses very plain language. It didn’t always work, especially when characters were speaking directly. Their tone and style seemed to change from one speech to the next; I would have preferred consistency.

In the end, though, my biggest gripe with To Join the Lost is that it’s not modern enough. Can you really fault a book for not being revolutionary enough? Is it To Join the Lost‘s fault that it’s not exciting enough? Steinzor mentions in his Afterword that he really wanted to modernize Inferno, that he wanted it to be more than just swapping out Dante’s politicians for modern ones, but that’s what I felt like when I was reading it. Maybe it’s just been so long since I read Inferno that my memories of it are very condensed. Yes, Steinzor came up with new hellish nightmares, but they were still in the same vein. I don’t know what I wanted, but it was something more. That isn’t to belittle what Steinzor does with To Join the Lost; it’s great and I’m sure it took a lot of effort, talent and obsession.

So what kind of Inferno would I want? I don’t know. An Inferno that really looks at our modern culture and sees what’s wrong with it. Maybe the metaphor just doesn’t make as much sense anymore. To Join the Lost is an adequate modernization of Inferno, but it just wasn’t the modernization of Inferno that I wanted, and that’s not really Steinzor’s fault at all.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for sending me a copy of this book to review. You can read more about this tour and previous and future tour dates here

7 thoughts on “To Join the Lost by Seth Steinzor

  1. I’m interested in reading this if only for the fact that I think it would make me love Dante’s Inferno slightly more than currently (I love it zero, currently). I’m not sure I’d even recognize a good modernization of it though, because I don’t have a good sense of the original.

  2. Interesting. I absolutely adore The Inferno and I’m not sure any book could live up to it, honestly…I think Jason mentioned this book to me recently, though. Or one like it.

  3. I’m sorry that this one didn’t live up to your expectations. It’s particularly hard when you receive a book through book tours and don’t love it, because there is still the obligation to post even when you would rather not. I felt the exact same way about the last book I read for a tour, and it’s what made me decide to take a break from them for a while so that I can just read and write about whatever I want.

    As for the Inferno, I read parts of it while at university, and I have to say it didn’t make a huge impression on me. I remember liking certain parts and thinking that the writing was strong, but there were so many references that I didn’t get, which obviously mitigated my overall appreciation of it.

  4. Too bad this book was a bust. I think you have a great reason for why you didn’t enjoy this. I like the idea of a modern Inferno and though this book sounds like it falls short, I’m going to add it to my tbr list. Great review.

  5. Although I’m sorry my book wasn’t what you’d hoped it would be, I’m grateful for your time, attention, and candor.
    Jenny and Vasilly, thanks for your interest in To Join the Lost! Please visit my web site,, either before you get the book, or afterwards to tell me what you thought of it.
    Amanda, it’s a thrill to hear that people are mentioning my book to one another!
    Steph, if the Inferno didn’t make a huge impression on you at university, then the professor did a lousy job. It is a problem for modern readers that so many of Dante’s references are obscure to us, but a good teacher should have helped you get beyond that. Part of the reason I wrote To Join the Lost was to try to recover the spirit that animated all those allusions to medieval Italian politics and society.

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