Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Spoiler-Free)

I’ve tried hard not to give anything away in this review as I believe Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is the kind of book every reader must experience for themselves. I wasn’t even sure of writing this review but I want everyone who reads the following to at least consider buying and reading this very special book.


The problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea.

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Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Year of Publishing: 2012

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, LGBT

Goodreads Rating: 4.3/5

My Rating: 5/5

I got to Aristotle and Dante’s party a little late; this book has been receiving praise from all corners of the literary world for a couple of years now, including the blogosphere, ever since it came out three years ago – most notably receiving the Lambda Literary Award and Stonewall Book Award for LGBT fiction, Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award honour, Pura Belpré Narrative Medal for Latino fiction, and Michael L. Printz Award honour for Young Adult fiction (copied off Wikipedia). With all the hype and praise surrounding the book, I was worried that I was setting the bar too high and that it would turn out to be just another recycled teenage love-triangle drama, written purely to cash in on a movie deal in a year or two. As more and more booktubers and critics started to rave about the author’s beautiful writing, the flow of the novel and an amazing ending, I decided to put aside my assumptions and actually read the book.  By the time I flipped over to the last page, all I could think to myself was, “this book is genius!”

Writing a synopsis for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is nearly impossible as there is very little in terms of ‘action’ in its 350+ pages. Simply put, it is the story of two friends, Aristotle and Dante, who first meet at the age of fifteen, at the swimming pool in the summer. Ari just floats around as he doesn’t know how to swim, and Dante offers to teach him. Soon enough, they become best friends in their own, strange little way. Apart from the fact that they both are Mexican-Americans in El Paso, Texas, there is very little in common between the teenage boys. Angel Aristotle Mendoza or Ari is the narrator and the readers join him and Dante on a roller-coaster ride as the two boys come-of-age through everyday struggles and experiences.

What sets this book apart from most in the YA genre is the strong presence of family. Both Ari and Dante have well-defined parents, each with their own characteristics and mannerisms. We don’t get to learn a lot about Ari’s sisters, but that has to do with the lack of importance Ari gives them in his life. Also, there are no perfect characters, there’s no one who can magically save the day or make everything alright. There’s a struggle in everyone’s life, the young boys and their parents, and you can see it, behind their smiles, kisses and conversations. They are human, just like us – the readers.

There is no need for any special control over the English language to read this book; it might even bother you in the early chapters, as it bothered me. However, as I read on, I realized that I was reading young Ari’s thoughts and interactions; Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s novel was far away in the distance. The prose grows with the boys, maturing and improving just as you would expect teenagers to. There aren’t many compound sentences or large words in this book, and every word is important to every sentence. The shortest sentence has the ability to bring out the strongest of emotion. It is poetry.

Part of me wishes that I could’ve read this book when I was the same age as the main characters. They are both so different: You will fall in love with Ari’s acceptance of solitude, in a way, loneliness; Dante’s quirky nature and love of life is a breath of fresh air, yet they fit together like peas in a pod. Every time the boys would call each other weird and every moment they spent together talking about the most mundane things – it felt like I was there, experiencing their friendship and their bond.

The best part about this book is that you can read it twice, thrice or a dozen times and it will still get you; it will still rock your emotions and make you feel things for these people and families who now firmly exist in your life forever.

Someday, I’m going to discover all the secrets of the universe.


 

This was my first attempt at reviewing anything at all. I chose a book that is very fresh in my mind even though I read it 3-4 months ago, simply because of how much I love it and how good it is. Hope I did it justice!

 

The Exam Collection

I haven’t updated my blog in a while – roughly 40 days – however, this is far from a dead blog. While I haven’t had the time to sit in front of my laptop and churn out a large piece of fiction or write a post about my study experiences, I’m constantly jotting down notes at the edge of my textbook or typing out rough ideas in an appropriately named Android app called ‘Scribble’.

 

The following two flash fiction pieces were two of my earliest, edge of the textbook notes. Hope you don’t find them as traumatizing as my college professor, who read them after catching me not paying attention in her class, did.


 

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She wrote down her darkest secrets on paper.

They found her with paper cuts on her wrists.

 

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An illness took her child and left her depressed.

“Woof”

She heard the sound and felt like a mother again.


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NaNoWriMo – It begins!

November 1st is almost here, and NaNoWriMo is just hours away!

All the very best to all those taking part in the annual writing extravaganza that is National Novel Writing Month. Unfortunately, I will not be taking part this year (which was supposed to be my first attempt), thanks to a dozen examinations over the next 40 days, forcing me to shelve my ever-so-exciting novel yet again.

However, this is not the end! The excitement in the blogging world and the online world in general has given me enough motivation to start writing a full-length novel as soon as my tests are done. I know I can rely on some brilliant writers and readers who regularly read my blog, to act as my writing buddies all year round.

Speaking of writing buddies, just because I am not officially participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo, does not mean I am not available for advice, critique and beta-testing. At any point in the month or over the next year, if any aspiring novelists need any help with their project, you can reach me on my Facebook or Twitter accounts. Also, you can add me as a writing buddy on NaNoWriMo even though there won’t be too much writing from my end – click here.

Once again, I would like to wish all participants the best of luck, and congratulate you for taking this important step in your journey towards your goal of writing your own novel.

FFfAW Halloween Special – Skeletal Express

This post is in response to Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers’ challenge #37.

The sound of children laughing, going door-to-door, woke her. She had fallen asleep on her sofa in the middle of the day, watching the original Dracula – yet another reminder of today’s holiday.

Her doorbell didn’t ring at all; the chocolates lay in the bowl, untouched. Hers had been the only house to be bare: no pumpkins, no vampires.

She had stopped celebrating Halloween when the skeletons in her closet felt more real than the ones on the street.


The last line was meant to be a micro-fiction story and a sample piece (an audition) that I sent to a moderately famous Indian Facebook page that has been looking for flash fiction writers. When I saw this week’s photo prompt, I had two ideas: I immediately rejected the first one, on seeing Priceless Joy’s submission – which was better than anything I could’ve written on the topic, and this was the second. I’m very happy that I chose this option. Hope you enjoyed my story!

Also, check out some of the other entries here:

Friday Fictioneers – Bringing Her Back

Every Friday, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields gives us, Friday Fictioneers, a prompt and we have roughly a 100 words to write the best story possible using this prompt. This week’s photo is below:

Bringing Her Back

“I used to live here?”

“Yes, darling. This is where your house used to be.”

“But…but..there’s nothing here”.

For the first time since the Tsunami in 2004, Joy was back in Sri Lanka. My wife and I had argued about whether our 18-year old was ready to visit her birthplace.

“It’s going to break her! You’re going to break her!”, she had protested as I confirmed our tickets.

As Joy looked at the nothingness in front of her and, then, back at me, there was a look in her eyes I had never seen before. I feared my wife was right.

“Thank you for bringing me here, dad”, she smiled and held my hand. All I could do was smile back; it was the first time she had called me dad.

What could’ve broken her, fixed a part of my daughter, gave her closure.


Went a bit above and beyond the 100 word limit (at 143) this week but I believed the story deserved a little more detail. For those that aren’t aware of the Tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean 11 years ago, here is the Wikipedia page.

To check out some of the other entries, click the blue frog!

Special thanks to Dale Rogerson for an excellent photo prompt.

Soul Searching

This story is in response to a Reddit Writing Prompt.

You are a burglar that leaves valuables in the homes you burgle.

What do you leave? Why are you doing this?

Soul Searching

Soul Left

“I need more diamonds … We’ll need to pick up some more from Him.”

‘The Master’, who was also my wife, walked into the bedroom dressed in all-black, from the scarf covering her head to the slippers on her feet. She was tired and in pain, yet she stood perfectly erect, looking directly into my eyes, “You’re getting addicted, again. I shouldn’t have to remind you the most important rule over and over: we only burgle one place a week – no more, no less – it’s dangerous to burgle any more than that. Pick the right house, place five diamonds, and we’re set for the rest of the week, easy. If not, we have our reserves.”

She was right. If there were too many cases of diamonds suddenly appearing on people’s nightstands, someone would notice and that would be devastating for her entire community, which relied on these burglaries for their survival. However, there has never been a media report on the sudden appearance of diamonds. Why would anyone disclose such a thing to anybody?

As I looked at her, she was walking slowly towards me with a smile on her face. She said, holding my face in her hands, “I know you worry about me, Collector, but you don’t need to. I’ve known my fate since I was a little girl, even when others didn’t; you can’t change the future, you can only do your duty.”

In the community, all Masters are assigned a Collector when their health deteriorates and they start performing their role for the organisation: stealing a part of people’s souls and sending them to their Supreme Leader. Ours was a relationship, different from that of a Master and a Collector; we were lovers first.

Arshiya, which is what she was called when I met her seven years ago, had yet to fully develop her powers. The community shunned her as an Obsolete – someone whose powers were out of date, useless – no Collector was assigned to her. It wasn’t until after our marriage that her powers were on par with the rest of them, and she started getting sick. As her hair started to fall and she grew tremendously weak, she told me everything about the Soul-saving community, and, together, we requested the Supreme Leader to make me her Collector – I didn’t want her to have to leave.

I said, “I understand, Aru, I do…But those poor souls are stuck in the bodies of humans that don’t deserve them, and with every soul you pass on, your health temporarily gets better. Remember last week? You felt strong enough for us to go out for dinner. I want you to experience these things rather than be stuck behind these four walls like a prisoner.”

She replied, after a moment’s hesitation. “I experience life through you, Saumil. We’re not a normal couple, you know that…”

Before she could try and change my mind, I decided to reveal to her why I needed those extra diamonds from the Leader.

“Aru, your community, for decades now, has been stealing the souls of those that are in need of money, as that guarantees they’ll pick up the diamonds for personal benefit. You see, none of you are entirely human and that’s probably why you never noticed, but I am, and I have: Humans will pick those diamonds up, irrespective of their economic standing, how much money they have – whether you’re lying on the street with no clothes or on a waterbed inside in a mansion, there’s not a human in this world who’ll reject free diamonds.”

Her eyes lit up, and I continued. “The richer their bodies are, the more desperate the soul will be to be freed. Tomorrow, I’m going to burgle the richest man in the city, steal his soul in exchange for a few diamonds, and I’m going to grow old with my beautiful, healthy wife.”


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A very late Tuesday Short: Love and Nothing

Now that 99% of Instagram users have shifted to Snapchat, it feels like the right time to get back onto the previously popular photo app. To celebrate this momentous occasion, I decided to write a ‘Tuesday Short’ on Friday. Hope you guys like it!


Love and Nothing

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Love has the power to bind us together.

And yet, to some, to too many, it means nothing.

Instagram Username: @akashrv

To me, writing comes naturally; writing sense is a challenge.

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