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All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day Paperback – May 15, 2011
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About the Author
Jim Forest, who lives in the Netherlands, is secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. A lifelong peacemaker, he is the author of many books include Praying with Icons, Living with Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton, and Ladder of the Beatitudes.
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For those already familiar with her, this is an excellent recap. It clarifies things and fills in the gaps nicely. Years of research went into this book; I don’t see any obvious factual errors. Having known Dorothy Day, I can attest to the accuracy of this book. Should she be canonized a saint? I don’t know why not. See the discussion in this book.
More than a biography, this is also a history of the Catholic Worker movement within the larger contexts of American and world histories. Well written, clear and easy to follow, though its page layout is not easy on the eyes. (The text is squeezed into narrow columns to accommodate oversized margins that are mostly wasted space. What were they thinking? But it is readable.)
Other than its page layout, this is a great book! An engrossing story of an eventful life. Recommended to anyone who would like to get to know Dorothy Day and walk a mile in her shoes. The illustrations, mostly photographs, are many and outstanding.
It seems the perspective of additional years of reflection, the opening of the cause for her canonization, and the release of Dorothy's diaries and letters all impacted a fresh look at her life and Jim Forest so aptly gave us a new view of her remarkable life. It is written with the same personal attention to the details of each important phase of her live as was his first book. Each phase of her life is told like a separate story, written so personally as if he was with her at each step. It is the perfect way to tell the story of her life. Dorothy was fond of telling stories to others, and in my several meetings with her during the summer of 1976, she was more personally interested in my view points, opinions and life experiences than she was in talking about herself.
After the first 3 chapters, focused on her early years with her family, the next 8 chapters take us through the struggles of her young adult years beginning with going away to college. It was almost painful reading through these chapters as she struggled to find herself, which she finally did after the Spirit led fateful encounter with Peter Maurin on December 9th, 1932.
The following 7 chapters focus on the early years of the Worker. The core values are covered in separate chapters. At times it seems that competing priorities needed to be sorted out as the Catholic Worker sought to define itself.
The next 9 chapters cover important aspects in her personal life and the life of the Worker. Her struggles as a single parent, the life changing annual retreats she made, the years with Ammon Hennacy and the final imprisonment of her life in California, resulting from her demonstrations with Cesar Chavez and the farm worker union just some of the topics covered.
The following 5 chapters cover her later years. It starts with her final travels which included a trip around the world, a few years later her confinement in her room at Maryhouse and ending with her funeral and burial on Staten Island. Like the chapters covering her early adult years, I found these final chapters painful to read as age and poor health gradually overtook the once vibrant, activist life that Dorothy lived for so many years. And yet, as the pace of her life slowed, she showed us how to grow old gracefully, ultimately preparing for her death. Jim Forest covers this final period of her life with delicacy and affection.
The second to last chapter narrates the process that lead to opening the cause for her canonization. Forest chronicles the steps taken by the Cardinals O'Connor and Egan to gain the Vatican's approval and establish the Guild for Dorothy Day, which is the official instrument to promote her cause. The final chapter entitled "Dorothy Day: A Personal Remembrance" finally gives Jim Forest the opportunity to share in detail what Dorothy meant to him and how she impacted his faith and life.
"All is Grace: A biography of Dorothy Day" is without question in my humble opinion the definitive biography of Day. A bonus being all the photos (200+) that are distributed throughout the book. I can unequivocally recommend it both to those who know little of her, but are curious to learn and those who are very familiar but would like a comprehensive review of her life.
For students of Day and the Catholic Worker movement this is a must read along with:
* "All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day" edited by Robert Ellsberg
* "The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day" edited by Robert Ellsberg
* "Dorothy Day: Portraits of Those Who Knew Her" by Rosalie Riegle, and
* "The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins" by Louise and Mark Zwick.