Ami J. Sanghvi's 'Devolution' is a rare beast; a collection of prose poetry with the fire and bite of 20- and 21st century confessional and political literature, and the linguistic mastery and complexity of the 18th-19th century classics. 'Devolution' is an intertextual work - like fanfiction, it engages with a prior text, in this case Dante's Inferno, and challenges its ideas. 'Devolution' does an absolutely beautiful job of this. It pulls out a lot of Inferno's assumptions, challenges notions about the Christian God himself, and beneath it all is an anger that many of us can understand if not directly share. I also really appreciate that the author of this collection - a direct response to Dante and a criticism of Christianity's historical doctrines - is a queer, Indian woman.
Particularly of note is how hard it is to have writing this complex and flowery carry an emotional punch. Often, writers have to choose between emotional weight and 'artistic' prose. Sanghvi disposes with this choice entirely and just does both - it takes a while to unwind the sentences, but the effort is worth it when the impact hits.
I personally really, really enjoyed 'Devolution' - that said, it's for a niche audience. The writing is gorgeous, but hard to follow if you're not practiced with reading very dense, very high register work (think John Donne, Nathaniel Hawthorne, etc.) It's very deliberately done, but definitely something to go in knowing. Additionally, while you don't have to have read Dante's Inferno, it's best to go in with at least a beginner's knowledge of Inferno and the criticisms of Christian doctrine involved. I also wish 'Devolution' was longer - there's so much opportunity to examine specific circles of hell - but the author's prelude mentions that this was written during specific circumstances, which makes that understandable.
Four stars to 'Devolution', and I'm excited to see more of Sanghvi's work!
I enjoy reading new books and fiction, and have a fresh, unique perspective as a Canadian queer disabled person.