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Fiction Literary

Dante's Indiana

by (author) Randy Boyagoda

Initial publish date
Sep 2021
Literary, Religious, Satire
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2021
    List Price

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"A Divine Comedy of our times."—John Irving, author of The World According to Garp

"This book is a miracle.”—Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

A 2022 ReLit Award Finalist • A Winnipeg Free Press Top Read of 2021

Following Original Prin, a NYTBR Editor’s Choice and Globe and Mail Best Book, Dante’s Indiana is an extraordinary journey through the divine comedies and tragedies of our time.
Middle-aged, married, but living on his own, Prin has lost his way. Desperate for money and purpose, he moves to small-town Indiana to work for an evangelical millionaire who’s building a theme park inspired by Dante’s Inferno. He quickly becomes involved in the difficult lives of his co-workers and in the wider struggles of their opioid-ravaged community while trying to reconcile with his distant wife and distant God. Both projects spin out of control, and when a Black teenager is killed, creationists, politicians and protesters alike descend. In the midst of this American chaos, Prin risks everything to help the lost and angry souls around him while searching for his own way home.

Following Original Prin, a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice and Globe and Mail Best Book, Dante’s Indiana is affecting and strange, intimate and big-hearted—an extraordinary journey through the darkly divine comedies of our time.


About the author

Soharn Randy Boyagoda is a Canadian writer, intellectual and critic best known for his novels Governor of the Northern Province and Beggar's Feast and his biography of Richard John Neuhaus. 

Randy Boyagoda's profile page

Excerpt: Dante's Indiana (by (author) Randy Boyagoda)

Riding through the valley, I looked up and lost my way.

From the ground, my bike beside me, I caught my breath and bent my legs. Nothing cracked or snapped or stung. I pushed up, on my elbows. It was midday in Toronto. Late November. A Thursday.

People pedaled and jogged past. Families fanned out along the path with food bags and strollers and toddlers leashed at the wrist. A few people waved, to make sure that I was okay. I waved back. Loose dogs approached, curious, their tails whipping around. Their owners called out treats and punishments and they turned away from me. I slipped back down.

I was alone in the city.

I blinked a few times. Beyond the penciled high branches, the heavens looked like the greywhite of rainwater in an empty swimming pool.

I was alone in the city.

The demon was still there. It was beside me. The creature squatted on a plinth wedged between the bike path and the murky river. It had bat wings and a dog face. The Thursday before, it hadn’t been here; I was certain of that at least and had stared at it for far too long. Mid-pedal past. My front wheel went off the path into a slurry of pea-gravel. Small stones dug into my skin but pushing into the earth made them go away. The ground was damp and forgiving.

I looked at the gargoyle again. The battered creature must have been dumped out of some lately condo’d church. Smashed up bramble and bush ended near its base, rutted lines of dried out mud that led across the path and up to the main road. Tire tracks. Someone had driven it down from the city proper and unloaded it, right side up, and left.

A statement? A warning? A joke?

Had I taken a wrong turn, higher up the path?

If they were here with me, we wouldn’t lay down and blink and stare. We’d climb and call out and conquer.

Molly left in July, with the children. To stay with her family for the summer. She took their winter clothes.


“Leave you here?”

The driver dropped me in front of the glass-boxed front of my old Catholic college. It was now a condominium and assisted-living complex called The New U.

I walked through the airy vestibule that had been built in front of the chipped-brick building. The old hardscape had been torn up and replaced by paving tiles; pitted and silver-grey, they gave off a sheen like old trophies and tea services and baby cups, spoons, shoes in which first steps were taken, decades ago.

“Prin, has the condo board changed the rules and nobody told the guy who has to enforce them? Am I really going to let you go up the elevator with that bike, like that?” said Marcus.

I went over to his desk. The monitors and phones and cardiac-arrest kits were concealed by slatted lengths of amber wood — warm like honey and candlelight, like honey in candlelight. The desk softened the rest of the building’s otherwise cold bright bare beginning.

Marcus was a retired soldier. He lined the top of his desk with potted cactuses, a tribute to his late wife, and was beloved by the building’s residents for settling daily disputes about party-room bookings and guest-parking.

“Where am I supposed to go then?” I said.

Others were watching and listening. They were always in the lobby, fixed in their places like the unsecured umbrella stands. They carried tablets and e-readers, in case you asked any direct questions.

Marcus tapped and checked a screen. He checked his watch.

“Go to Underground 2. You might hop in the tub with your bike. You have about ten minutes before they start coming back from their dog walks. I’ll text you the code. Hurry up so you’re not ambushed.”


I was too late.

“So, what do you got there? Poodle-Harley mix?”

The other dog-walkers laughed at the old man’s joke. I waited.

When I eventually left the dog-washing room, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one waiting. The building’s elevators, programmed to reach each resident’s floor via face-recognition software, weren’t working. At every face, it flashed The Terraces.

This had to be an error message.

They all looked to me. I was the youngest resident in the building. I knew “computer,” and I had the code for the utility elevator, so I offered to bring everyone back to the lobby. Certain dogs didn’t get along. Multiple trips were necessary. I had to make each one. No one believed the code would work for anyone else. No one would chance a trip to The Terraces, the condominium’s medical wing.

Thank you’s were offered.

Standing in the lobby, I looked through the condo’s glass facade. Traffic and the faces of people in traffic; behind them, above them, more condominiums. The sky was endlessly the same. As if grey clouds had worsted the heavens.

“Overcast until evening, then cooler. The same’s in the forecast tomorrow,” said a voice from the unsecured umbrella stand.

I had to leave the lobby.

Four o’clock was too early for dinner.

For the microwave.

For pepperoncini or hot mustard on the reheated joint.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Dante's Indiana

"[Dante's Indiana] mixes the outrageous social satire of George Saunders or Salman Rushdie with Prin’s more solemn and inward religious searching. The unique result juxtaposes the ridiculous and the sublime—fitting as both an homage to Dante and a portrayal of America."—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“Boyagoda keeps things moving quickly and imaginatively. He skewers hosts of sinners along the way, but the wit has a winsome empathy behind it. A rollicking, inventive, mostly successful satire—with a vein of seriousness and sadness underneath.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Boyagoda set himself a challenge, and it’s one that he’s up to ... Boyagoda makes it seem easy with a series of apt similes ... This is the sort of imaginative verbal panache that in our own vernacular pays tribute to Dante as literary guide ... The classics, however, are always reimagined in ways that respond to the personal anxieties and public crises of our own time. In the shattered funhouse of the twenty-first century we may be expected to redefine the content of a faith that sustains.”—Toronto Star

“Witty and wrenching.”—Globe & Mail

"Boyagoda’s novel might be one of the best ways to “remember Dante forward”—to remember him in the present tense. By channeling Dante in a satirical vein, Boyagoda helps us see the impulses shaping the American and global economic order as spiritual forces—and the decisions made by individuals, communities, and even nations as products of disordered desire."—Image Journal

"Dante’s Indiana succeeds as a funny, unpredictable and occasionally moving tale."—Winnipeg Free Press

"Boyagoda shows how the political is always personal and the personal is always spiritual. The last ninety pages of the novel move at break-neck speed ... The effect is a bit dizzying, but maybe that’s the point—in an age where the internet connects us across oceans and time zones, no one exists in isolation and every occurrence is connected."—ZYZZYVA

"Randy Boyagoda takes a bold dive into some of society’s most contentious issues in his latest novel, Dante’s Indiana ... The theme of being lost and also being found is at the crux of Prin’s experience and that of the other characters. That profound idea found in Catholic liturgy and in Scripture is central to the religious tradition at play in this book."—Catholic Register

"In his most recent and best novel to date, Randy Boyagoda rides a rollercoaster that could easily derail into infernal entertainment ... With its admixture of playfulness and gravitas, Dante’s Indiana is an unlikely footnote to David Foster Wallace’s peerless novel Infinite Jest, which wows readers with an extended analogy between addiction and entertainment ... Passing through Prin’s purgatorial rollercoaster, seeing the sights beyond the theme park lights, the reader is sharpened by shocks of recognition, the sort that Dante’s commedia gives us."—Law & Liberty

Dante’s Indiana is, like the first book, about Prin’s adventures in a world that is crazy and chaotic for a man of faith. And it is, also like the first, real, yet surreal. Hugely funny, yet poignant … Many of us will find our stories reflected in Boyagoda’s work, we’ll meet people we know.”—Desi News

“Randy Boyagoda’s Dante’s Indiana is many things—knee-slapping satire, social commentary, spiritual pilgrimage. But above all, it is an attempt to bring contrapasso to bear on contemporary American life, both implicitly and explicitly ... As in his first novel, Boyagoda mixes the sacred and profane to great effect ... By locating the sacred within the profane, Dante’s Indiana offers a counternarrative to that of the culture wars ... Boyagoda’s novel is hilarious and deeply touching.”—Plough Quarterly

“Full of memorable characters and as fast-paced as the roller coaster that will be the main ride of hell, the novel reads like a movie script ... Even when the plot descends into dark topics, Boyagoda’s eye for wit keeps the novel lighthearted ... Sometimes absurd, sometimes witty, the humor of Dante’s Indiana is always thoughtful, never hurtful, and often satirical ... As Prin makes his path through the twists and turns of this novel, he never gives up hope that heaven awaits on the other side of purgatory.”—North Texas Catholic

"A Divine Comedy of our times—a morality play of an Everyman. An ordinary English professor, struggling to hold his marriage together, finds himself working for holy rollers and scheming businessmen. Hysterically funny, but with an underlying sadness—such Heaven and Hell already coexist in America, and in this novel."—John Irving, author of The World According to Garp

“The astonishing Boyagoda at his astounding best … Dante’s Indiana is a satirical stunner, a mad Midwestern tour de force and one of the most moving, most incisive maps of our grim contrapasso present you’ll ever read, a novel that is both humblingly humane and soaringly divine. Dante’s Indiana is what would happen if Saunders’ CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Moby Dick had a prophetic prodigal child. This book is a miracle.”—Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Dante’s Indiana is proof that a book can be both entertaining and literary—just like a theme park of Dante’s Inferno. Randy Boyagoda peoples his novels with lovable characters. They’re smart but not wise. Hurting but hopeful. Principled but exploited. The novel is political, satirical, allegorical … and almost a straight-up mirror of our times. This is a book we could all use right now.”—Ian Williams, Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning author of Reproduction

"Randy Boyagoda's writing fills me with laughter, delight—and envy. With ambition and an unerring eye for detail, Dante's Indiana conjures a world that is savage, satirical, and unexpectedly tender."—Aravind Adiga, Man Booker Prize-winning author of The White Tiger

Praise for Original Prin

Original Prin is many things at once: a richly funny campus novel, a painfully humorous portrait of a modern family, an examination of a whole spectrum of religious faith from shaky to fanatical, and finally, in a climax of pitch-black comedy, a thriller too. Boyagoda writes with real panache and drive. An unputdownable book.”
Salman Rushdie

“An original animal...Clever, often ingenious...[raising] fascinating questions about fanaticism and the state of the modern world. Prin evolves in surprising ways, and tensions spike. For readers feeling confounded at the end, fear not. It’s the first in a planned trilogy.”
The New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice)

“University corruption, infidelity, Catholic theology, Middle Eastern politics: not many writers could convincingly keep so many balls in the air, and that Boyagoda does so in a truly funny novel is impressive enough. But perhaps even more striking is the depth of sensitivity and understanding that Boyagoda brings to the emotive issues of faith, immigration, and violence. By examining the messy intersections between religious fundamentalism, global capitalism, and liberal values through the gentle comic form of the campus novel, Boyagoda does more than offer clever satire—he humanizes these vast impersonal forces even as he imbues them with a moral complexity that frustrates easy political judgment.”
The Walrus

“That Boyagoda can take on faith, global capitalism, religious terrorism, upper-middle-class preciousness and self-delusion—all the while implicating Canada in traditionally “American” problems—attests to his talent. It also manages to be a taut and funny novel throughout...This is the first volume of a planned trilogy. If I could hazard my own divination of signs, I would bet Boyagoda could take [Prin] anywhere.”
America: The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture

“One of the best satirical writers today...immediately funny.”
Micah Mattix, The American Conservative

“Boyagoda sets up a tightly paced novel in Original Prin that succeeds on a number of fronts. It’s a hilarious romp of a campus novel, poking fun at the market-driven ethos of the modern Canadian academy. It’s a touching look at the complicated sacrifices demanded of familial love. At heart, it’s a richly humorous novel that explores the struggle for spiritual believers in a fiercely secular world...capturing the rambunctious multi-faith, multicultural zeitgeist of the city, particularly in corners where cultures and faith overlap...Boyagoda has crafted a novel that’s fresh and utterly original.”
Toronto Star

“Timely...supremely funny...Original Prin deals with much that is purely human, centering on Prin's desire to do the right thing and the very relateable hang-ups and weaknesses that constantly thwart him. Boyagoda's novels are a reminder of what Catholic literature should be like.”
The Catholic Register

“A winning combination of academic satire and sociopolitical commentary that leaves readers facing grim reality and acknowledging the irrationality of it all. Globally aware and witty, this is the opening title in a projected trilogy and a tale that offers a fascinating new perspective on journeys of faith and contemporary intellectual pursuits.”

“[Original Prin] skewers the corporatized university and modern world politics alike in this delicious satire...A lively complement to Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim, Malcolm Bradbury's The History Man, Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys, and other academic sendups.”
Kirkus Reviews

Original Prin is a riotously funny satire, written more in the style of John Kennedy Toole and David Foster Wallace than [Flannery] O'Connor or [Graham Greene]...Boyagoda's clear, tight, prose propels the lot, and the book feels even shorter than its 223 pages. the whirling dervish of a story is dizzying at times, but is ultimately grounded buy the protagonist, whose sincerity and self-doubt allow him to function as a spiritual everyman for an internet-addled, post truth age.”
—The American Interest

“The funniest parts are long set pieces in which people reveal themselves to be who they are, and who they are is regrettable. Boyagoda satirizes academics, Catholics, Catholicism, Islamic terrorism, family life, male insecurities, and a raft of other subjects. Prin, the child of Sri Lankan parents, feels his life isn't what it should be, but the real problem is that he knows he's not what he should be.”

“The novel surpasses self-satisfied wit and leaves us instead wincing under the weight of the cosmic spirit's humbling capaciousness. With its cosmic skewering of conscientious Catholicity and fanatical Islam, Original Prin might seem bent on ushering in a hyper-tolerance; but Boyagoda's novel does not laugh at what each of us holds most sacred so much as he laughs and hen weeps at the self-delusions of believers.”
—The University Bookman

Original Prin is one of those books that defy classification. It's very real, yet surreal. It's funny - actually laugh-out-loud so - but sad."
Desi News

“A very entertaining read...Prin's antics are alarming and funny, but the story's themes of faith and self-deception resonate long after the last sentence.”
CBC Books

Original Prin finds Boyagoda working explicitly in the tradition of comic Catholic writers such as Evelyn Waugh...It is fabulously rare, in our secular age, to find a novel that focuses so insistently and unironically on a character whose religion is not an ancillary aspect of his persona but absolutely central.”
Quill & Quire

“Boyagoda gets it right.”
Hamilton Review of Books

Praise for Randy Boyagoda

“Gleaming...Through his protagonist’s long and eventful life, Randy Boyagoda explores themes of shifting identity, of the diamond-hard determination to evade one’s destiny and of the inner landscapes of an island that itself undergoes a dramatic transformation ... an ambitious book that seeks to convey the sweep of history through the prism of one island. The lush style of Boyagoda’s prose suits the novel.”
The New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice)

“The Evelyn Waugh of the North.”

Governor of the Northern Province’s humour and liveliness are in welcome contrast to the dreary earnestness of so many similar books.”
Quill & Quire

“Boyagoda, a sharp and subtle writer, slips easily into many different characters’ heads and their internal rhythms, and lyrical lines abound…A satirical feast.”
The Globe and Mail

“A multifaceted, engrossing story… Prepare for a verbal feast that will thoroughly entertain and satisfy, yet leave you hungering for more.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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