Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World ― Benjamin Alire Sáenz ― “Cowards start wars, and the brave fight them.”

No reader will dig into this book without expectation, and after reading a book like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, the expectations will be high and the pressure unimaginable. In the acknowledgments, Benjamin Alire said that this was one of the most difficult books he has ever written, and you can get that feeling when reading this 500-page novel.

We did not know what to expect from the story besides that it was about Ari and Dante. When we picked it up and started it, it was sweet, emotional, and adventurous. The first book ended abruptly, and the reader could not accompany Ari through his process of discovering himself. Dante was always the emotional one, the one open to the world, and the one that was quite sure of who he wanted to be. However, when it comes to Ari, we only saw a bit of his discovery. 

In this novel, we see how Aristotle is sure about loving Dante but still trying to define his sexuality and personality. Benjamin mentioned during the acknowledgments that there were some things still pending from the first book, and going back into the story, the reader can understand better why this new story was so invested in Ari’s journey of discovery, grief, sexuality, and even academic interests. At its core, this novel is a coming of age at its maximum. The characters are lovely and supportive, and the oversimplification of minor issues is evident because we should not complicate ourselves when life can throw more difficult challenges at us. 

Closing circles became pivotal moments in the novel as Ari starts to let things go and gives closure to other relations and people while opening to new worlds and new hands to read the universe. Ari opened himself to the world, new friends, and his family. The change in the character is evident from one novel to the other. As is customary of Benjamin, there are literary ele that evolve with Ari. The desert and the rain become the delimitators in Aristotle’s life. We already mentioned the importance of the desert and rain in the novel, but if you read carefully, after every desert storm, Ari changes drastically and discovers something about himself. These elements play a role in character development.

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I think the ending defeats the novel’s purpose of closing circles and moving on, and even falls into a fan service kind of ending and a bit of an expected cliché that I was not rooting to happen. However, if someone deserves a sweet ending, it’s this couple. 

Overall, the story is engaging and full of emotions and life lessons that anybody can understand regardless of the reader’s heritage. Delightfully pleasant, moving, and poignant but still full of hope is what Benajime managed to compose when writing this life-altering novel.

Stay tuned for our book club and discussion questions about this novel.

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