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Customer Review

169 of 169 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating, March 21, 2003
This review is from: The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage (Hardcover)
I stumbled upon an advance reader's copy of this work in a used bookshop--I had never heard of the book's author, an editor at FSG, but I was curious to find out how he would weave together the stories of his four subjects: Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy. At first glance, they seemed to have little in common apart from their religion.
As Elie shows in this entertaining and informative book, these writers were all highly aware of each other, and would meet on their separate "pilgrimages" toward authentic spirituality in increasingly secular times. "The School of the Holy Ghost" (as this quartet was once called) was not a school at all, as the Imagists or the Beats were; however, Elie shows, they felt a profound kinship, and one of the most fascinating aspects of the book is Elie's depiction of how they reached out to each other, through fan letters, postcards, reviews, publishing each other's work, and not-always-successful meetings (Merton and Percy had little to say to one another as they sipped bourbon on the porch of Merton's hermitage in Kentucky.)
Above all, what brought these Catholic believers together was a love of literature, and Elie's book happily overflows with this same virtue. Whether discussing Day and Merton's dispute over Vietnam draft card burning, or the racism of O'Connor's letters, Elie writes elegant and opinionated prose. He shows how hard these people had to struggle to find a path for themselves, and how they came to see struggle as an inherent quality of faith. His readings of O'Connor and Percy's fiction are astute, and he productively contrasts Day's activism with Merton's withdrawal into solitude. Elie's use of letters--especially O'Connor's--brings out the voices of the principals, and at the end of the book, you feel that you know them personally. I would recommend this superb synthesis to anyone interested in the intersection of faith and literature.
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