“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Saenz


Secrets are not necessarily mendacious. Most secrets are actually the truth – the truth kept hidden deep inside our hearts and minds, concealed not only from the others, but from ourselves as well. Such secrets are essential and definitive to our existence. They imply who we are; who we want to be; who we love; where we derive from; how we envision ourselves in society. They are the hardest truths to accept but you can’t live in peace with yourself until you come to terms with them.

Such secrets are gnawing at the heart of Aristotle, a 15-year-old Mexican pariah. He is a bitter teenager, condescending towards his peers and perturbed by the skeletons in his family’s closet. His closest friend is his own mother and even though he is never bullied at school kids ostracize him. He is fascinated by the mysterious air around his brother who has been imprisoned, but his parents’ reluctance to talk about it engenders yet another secret to frown over.

Aristotle meets Dante while trying to learn to swim without the help of any instructors. Not only do their names complement, but so do their personalities.  Dante hates wearing shoes and is extremely vehement about animals. He falls in love with paintings and lyrics and inhabits a world completely different from that in El Paso. “Dante’s face was a map of the world. A world without darkness. Wow, a world without darkness. How beautiful was that?”

 Unlike Aristotle, Dante is enchanted by the world, its wonders, its beauty and its infinity. He leaps at every opportunity and never avoids social contact. Their unconventional friendship changes both their lives irrevocably. It defines their present and their future and endows their past with a meaning. It is a spectacular portrayal of the sacrificial and altruistic part of love.

As the story traces the growth and maturation of those two innocent boys, it questions whether we ever truly get to know ourselves and the world we live in. It depicts life as an incessant strive to take control over your feelings and actions, and accept everything that makes you up. “High school was just a prologue to the real novel. Everybody got to write you – but when you graduated, you got to write yourself”

What defines us is all the inner conflicts and contradictions which beget our deeds. It’s not what you do that makes you – you, but the reason you do it. “Because when you do something, you have to know exactly what you are doing.” It is the driving force that distinguishes us from each other and determines what we would delineate as beautiful, inspirational, worthwhile or scintillating. Thus, we are fundamentally different in our purpose to go on breathing. “We all fight our private wars.”  and within those ruthless struggles our brilliance and uniqueness arise.

The novel describes how two boys acknowledge what propels them forward. It alleges that the secrets of the universe: why do we live? what is the point of our existence? what purpose do we serve? do we matter?; are actually the secrets of the self. The meaning we bestow upon our lives is the meaning we bestow to the universe.

As Aristotle says “Summer was a book of hope” and so is this novel. “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” offers a captivating glimpse in the Mexican culture and the struggle to outgrow one’s Hispanic heritage. It is one of those books that you get glued to and can’t put down for a second. Once you embark upon it, there is no quitting, so I strongly suggest reading it during the summer holidays.




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