Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”

I think I’ll start this review off with Ari’s words and see where I’ll go from there: “. . . I actually understood some of it. Not all of it—but some. And I didn’t hate it. That surprised me. It was interesting, not stupid or silly or sappy or overly intellectual—not any of those things . . .”

That’s what I thought of this book. I have to admit, I had a hard time with this book. At first. I didn’t know what to think of it. Part of me didn’t like it in the beginning, but as I read on I found myself loving it.

There isn’t much of a plot in it because everything that happens is either just instances of people talking and being together or Ari (and Dante) musing, one day after another. Everything is almost always a reflective moment. I felt that the story meandered; it really wasn’t going anywhere. But then I realised that’s probably the point. This is a coming-of-age story, after all. This is the story of two Mexican boys trying to find their way through their topsy-turvy lives with the hopes to one day make sense of it all. The overall language is poetic, simple and straightforward and made for a quick read, but it’s also conversational with cynical and sarcastic overtones—which I think is the perfect tone to use for this kind of book. The way that Saenz tries to be intellectual about the whole thing makes this notion, along with the overarching themes of selfhood, identity, family, relationships, adulthood, sex and sexuality, amongst other things, easier to process.

Come to think of it, I feel that teenaged Dev (which isn’t saying much seeing that I’m only nineteen, but hush) would’ve struck some kind of friendship to angry, sarcastic, and slightly misanthropic Ari. Our minds never shut up; we’re constantly talking to ourselves in our heads, asking ourselves questions we don’t have the answers to. How he jokes around (when he’s not questioning himself if he really is or not, which I also do sometimes), processes his thoughts, and how he analyses and rationalises his shortcomings and everything that comes in between his life reminds me of how would do it to myself, even until now. More so today than ever, in fact. Some quotes that resonated with me as I read were more by Ari (none of them are spoiler-y, I promise):

“I didn’t know why I was thinking about all these things—except that’s what I always did. I guess I had my own personal television in my brain. I could control whatever I wanted to watch. I could switch the channels anytime I wanted.”

“I thought it might be a great thing to be the air.
I could be something and nothing at the same time. I could be necessary and also invisible. Everyone would need me and no one would be able to see me.”

“I was in love with the innocence of dogs, the purity of their affection. They didn’t know enough to hide their feelings. They existed. A dog was a dog. There was such a simple elegance about being a dog that I envied.”

“Senior year. And then life. Maybe that’s the way it worked. High school was just a prologue to the real novel. Everybody got to write you—but when you graduated, you got to write yourself. At graduation you got to collect your teacher’s pens and your parents’ pens and you got your own pen. And you could do all the writing. Yeah. Wouldn’t that be sweet?”

So it’s safe to say that I can relate to him in more ways than one. Also, this is basically what 99% of the book is like: introspective chatter with the occasional sardonic banter.

Ari and Date had some cute moments together, albeit it being mixed with some heavy and complicated emotions. I really enjoyed reading about the two of them. And there is also a lot of talking in this book. I think the dialogues are my favourite part of this book; everything sounded natural coming out of their mouths. It took me a while to get used to all the talking, though, but eventually it grew on me. I especially liked the conversations Ari has with his parents, the ups and downs of it. Again, they reminded me a lot of my own. And it also made me fly through the pages even faster.

Overall, I think this is such a lovely book. It’s a reflection, or a memoir, more than anything, but it’s also a sweet, heartwarming tale of love that goes beyond blood family and close friendships. It speaks to the misfits, to those who are still discovering who they really are, those who are lost and unsure of where they’re headed in life, and to those who are still living ‘someone else’s idea’ of life. And so I would recommend this book to everyone because I’m sure we’ve all felt this way at one point or another in our lives.

If you’ve made it this far into my post, then thank you for reading! Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? And if not, would you be interested? Let me know what you think and feel free to share any recommendations below.

Until next time,

(Side image taken from here)

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Michelle says:

    I haven’t read it yet, but it’s been on my TBR for so long now! Definitely need to get on with it

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dev. says:

      I hope you get to it soon, it’s definitely worth your time ☺️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I keep seeing this book everywhere, and it looks super interesting. I may just have to check it out!


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