So behind, so behind. Let’s see if I can remember what this book was about.
I am no great math or science scholar. I maintained a disbelief in atoms until, oh, a few years ago (not really–it was simply incomprehensible to me that we can know something so tiny exists) and geometry is beyond me (you should see my SAT math score…I think I scored barely more points than you got for showing up and signing your name). For some reason, though, I really enjoy reading books that involve physics (though I tend to skim over the math). Maybe it is that physics keeps getting stranger and stranger and less and less logical, and I like to think there are other universes (universi?) and ways we could reach them.
I picked up Jane Jensen’s Dante’s Equation because it wondered what would happen if an equation for good and evil was discovered. Cool! What an idea! I remember my 11th grade U.S. History teacher who said that science is the “how” and religion is the “why.” Jensen’s book seemed to embody that idea. It marries Kabbalah and physics. Strange bedfellows you say? Maybe not. During the Holocaust, mystic thinker Rabbi Yosef Kobinski vanished from Auschwitz under mysterious circumstances. Decades later, another rabbi and an American journalist for a New Age publication have become obsessed with Kobinski and the formula for good and evil he purportedly discovered. Kobinski’s formula is amazingly similar to research being done by Dr. Jill Talcott, who stumbles upon the effects of energy waves on humans and other living entities. The government is also pursuing Dr. Talcott and any remnants of Kobinski’s formula to keep its application for itself since the formula can alter both physical and spiritual states. All parties involved suddenly disappear and find themselves experiencing Kobinski’s formula of good and evil.
Jensen’s book is like two books. You have the first part which is fairly well-grounded in Talcott’s research and cold, single-minded pursuit; the rabbi’s obsession with dogma and ritual and growing obsession with Kobinski; the journalist’s willingness to use anyone to obtain fragments of Kobinski’s manuscript and of course, the mystery of just what Talcott’s research is uncovering and exactly what Kobinski’s theory is.
The second part begins after the main characters disappear. It’s interesting in its own right, yet it is here where Jensen’s plot begins to stumble a bit. It’s hugely ambitious. It is in this second part where the “Dante” of the title comes in. You know. Dante… He of the Divine Comedy and the Inferno, its best known part? The Dante of let the punishment fit the crime and different worlds for each type of crime/sin? That’s the basic component of the theory of good and evil. Without giving away too much, it’s not as simple as the bad characters go to a bad place and the good to a good one. Humans are much more complex than that. There are degrees of badness and goodness, and that degree will determine what type of world you will find yourself. Each character lands in a very unique place, places well-suited to each of them and their personal demons. It was this part of the novel that stretched my credulity. Jensen tried to make this part of the novel as realistic as the first part, but it still seemed too fantastic. Interesting experiment, though.
Once the characters return, they find themselves fundamentally changed and determined to prevent any more of Kobinski’s work from landing in the wrong hands. This ending rang a little false too. It was like they all returned with a “make love, not war” mentality that seemed a little hippy-ish even for this liberal. It seemed a little bizarre.
I commend Jensen for what she was trying to achieve in this book. I like that bad and good weren’t black and white and that there are degrees of badness and goodness I believe that. No one is wholly good or bad. Ultimately, the overall effort was a little uneven, but it was still a good read.