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Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis Hardcover – August 4, 2015
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Christianity Today Book Awards 2016, Award of Merit in History/Biography
Shortlisted for the Christian Book Awards
"[An] impressive debut biography...Santamaria has fashioned a compelling narrative, remaining cleareyed about her subject's many personal failings."—Kirkus
"Santamaria’s debut is sure to get attention from C.S. Lewis scholars and fans...Those who want to know the real Davidman will discover a woman in search of purpose and meaning who finally finds it in the faith and person of Lewis."—Library Journal
"Joy captures the toughness, the dreams, the hypocrisy, of a complex and controversial woman."—BBC.com, One of Ten Books to Read in August
“This book gives Davidman her life back. . . Ms. Santamaria succeeds in de-mythologizing Davidman’s story.”—The Wall Street Journal
"The narrative is crisp, and the subject matter is original and captivating. Santamaria examines Joy Davidman through a lens simultaneously critical and tender. Rather than presenting Lewis and his wife as saints, she depicts them as God’s sinful patients. Out of the many books published on Lewis, his contemporaries, and his writings in recent years, this one most thoroughly grabbed my attention."—John G. Turner, professor of religious studies, George Mason University, Christianity Today 2016 Book Awards
“A relentlessly focused and detailed biography of Joy Davidman…This serious and substantial work takes the reader far beyond the familiar romance and play Shadowlands, and the brilliance of Lewis’s meditation on Davidman’s death, A Grief Observed…This groundbreaking study contributes not just to the established Lewis studies, but brings to the foreground the cost of being a talented woman in a patriarchal world. It makes a case for the possibility of Christian faith in a compromised world with elegance and skill.”— Church Times
"[A] biography as compelling as fiction."—The Charlotte Observer
"Santamaria’s sympathetic and clear-eyed portrait of Joy Davidman might surprise people who assume that confirmed bachelor C.S. Lewis would fall only for an especially godly woman. Santamaria, relying heavily on Joy’s own writings, paints a vivid portrait of the pre-Lewis Davidman. It’s a fascinating portrait of Davidman’s childhood in New York, her radical college years and membership in the Communist Party, her rocky marriage to Bill Gresham, and her long-distance infatuation with Lewis, whom she pursued with single-minded focus despite her marriage. Santamaria highlights Davidman’s literary brilliance and shows her growing reliance on Christ."—World Magazine
"A clear-eyed, insightful portrait of a fascinating woman, Santamaria's biography adds important depth and richness to the popular image of Joy Davidman."—Shelf Awareness
"I now know that the life of Joy Davidman is a remarkable story, thanks to Abigail Santamaria’s recently published Joy...[It] adds a full measure of humanity and tenderness...Out of the growing heap of books about Lewis’s life and writings, Joy is an essential contribution."—Patheos
“Joy is compelling even for the Lewis-indifferent, like me. In Santamaria’s clear, unsentimental telling . . Reminded how love can befall us all, I felt better about life." -- Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times Book Review
"Humans are complex, and Santamaria has the guts to sacrifice simplicity and resolution to expose that truth. Joy is a story about longing and searching, hope and heartache. Every now and then, it’s about seeing. More than anything else, then, Santamaria’s portrait of Joy showed me the complexity of faith. It’s a tough complexity, but a beautiful one nonetheless."—Gospel Coalition
“Abigail Santamaria has written a luscious Narnia tale for grownups, a literary biography that takes the shape of a quest narrative as the brilliant idealistic Joy Davidman Gresham, writer and free spirit, adopts one cause after another until finally setting her cap for her spiritual mentor, C. S. “Jack” Lewis. Santamaria’s astonishing detective work reveals the surprising truth behind Lewis’s description of the couple as ‘a sinful woman married to a sinful man,’ even as she portrays their late-life love affair as salvational to them both.”
—Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life
"A biography about the brilliant and brash New Yorker who captured C.S. Lewis's heart was long overdue, so I'm thrilled to report that Abigail Santamaria does not disappoint. Her highly readable book should be the definitive biography of Joy Davidman for a long time to come."
—Eric Metaxas, New York Times best-selling author of Miracles and Bonhoeffer
“Joy is a delightful and fast-paced romp through a fascinating life. I read most of this book in one sitting, genuinely curious about whether this feisty, brilliant woman was going to get her happy ending. A truly impressive, even enviable, debut for a writer and a historian.”
—Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the forthcoming Madam: The Notorious Life and Times of Polly Adler
“Superbly researched and stylishly written, Joy dissolves the soft-focus romanticism of Shadowlands and brings before us a real-life woman in all her complexity. Abigail Santamaria, in a fine first work, guides us expertly and fair-mindedly round the beautiful ruins of an extraordinary life.”
—Michael Ward, University of Oxford, co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis
“Joy Davidman was manipulative, endearing, brilliant, and obsessive—and C.S. Lewis, one of the most influential and beloved spiritual writers of the twentieth century, fell in love with all of it. A complicated woman for our time, Davidman’s search for meaning and her final arrival at love will resonate deeply long after the reader has closed Santamaria’s masterful biography.”
— Kate Buford, author of Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe
“A tour de force. Plumbing the depths of unpublished documents, Santamaria reveals the vision and writing of a young woman whose coming of age in the turbulent thirties is both distinctive and emblematic of her time.”
— Susan Hertog, author of Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life
“This brilliantly researched biography has changed me for good. Until I read this book I could never take Joy Davidman to my heart; she now stands before me as real and believable as anyone I know. Joy offers a wonderful account of an unforgettable woman and her vibrant life; it is no wonder C.S. Lewis loved her so much.”
—Walter Hooper, personal secretary to C.S. Lewis and editor of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis
From the Inside Flap
— Kate Buford, author of Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe
Joy Davidman is known, if she is known at all, as the wife of C. S. Lewis. Their marriage was immortalized in the film Shadowlands and Lewis’s memoir A Grief Observed. Now, through extraordinary new documents as well as years of research and interviews, Abigail Santamaria brings Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis to the page in the fullness and depth she deserves.
A poet and radical, Davidman was an active member of New York literary and communist circles in the 1930s and ’40s. After growing up Jewish in the Bronx, she became an atheist, then a practitioner of Dianetics; she converted to Christianity after experiencing a moment of transcendent grace. A mother, a novelist, a vibrant and difficult and intelligent woman, she set off for England in 1952, determined to captivate the man whose work had changed her life.
Davidman became the intellectual and spiritual partner Lewis never expected but cherished. She helped him refine his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and to write his novel Till We Have Faces. Their relationship—begun when Joy wrote to Lewis for religious guidance—grew from a dialogue about faith, writing, and poetry into a deep friendship and a timeless love story.
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I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 Because I felt that Ms. Santamaria seemed a little harsh in her 'judgment' of Joy. Was she selfish at times? No doubt. But who in real life isn't. And the author often referred to Joy as 'scheming' regarding her pursuit of Lewis. To me that has a negative connotation. I think Joy just knew what she wanted, and knew, way before Lewis, that they were soul mates. She was brilliant, without superficiality; and she knew logically, and in her heart, that she was the only true partner for Jack, and he for her. Joy may have initiated things, but Jack ultimately acknowledged how important she was to him. Like Sayer said: "Their marriage had a natural quality. There was no striving to be something they were not. They just were." That's the kind of relationship we should all hope to have.
Regarding Bill Gresham, I found it interesting that he and Joy continued to communicate regularly. I think this probably hints at a mutual respect, although clouded by real life issues in a marriage that became loveless and intolerable for both. Not all women are born to be suburban housewives. Joy was certainly capable of more. In all failed relationships there are two sides, and the truth is somewhere in the middle. I do know that loving an alcoholic is almost impossible; they wear you down, physically and emotionally. Bill may have sobered up, but by then the damage had been done. Joy no doubt felt that the boys were better off with Lewis, so I don't see her desire to keep them in England as being hypocritical.
Regardless of what you personally think about Joy's actions and choices, she was a strong woman who, through perseverance and love, was able to live the life she was destined to live; and her place in history is firmly established as the brilliant and beloved partner/wife of one of the great writers of our time. Theirs is truly one of the most fascinating love stories of the ages; and since they were both writers, we get some insight into the depth of their love and their commitment to each other.
So, how did a nice Jewish girl from the Bronx end up with the foremost Christian apologist of the twentieth century? The long answer is a circuitous route through a sickly childhood, a meteoric educational journey ending with a MA from Columbia University at the age of 22, poetry awards and fellowships, the Communist Party, children, fortunes made and lost, and a marriage that foundered.
The short answer is moxie, manipulation, and perseverance. Our Ms. Davidman had no time to develop social skills; she simply went after what she wanted, and was able to overcome obstacles with intellect, wit, and a bit of luck. The snippets of her letters provided in this book are a delight. Ms. Santamaria backs up every point she makes with extensive documentation, and unlike many biographies, it's a good read.
If you didn't quite buy into the Shadowlands version of Joy Davidman, and are at all curious about the real Mrs. Lewis, Joy is a must-read. I loved, and highly recommend it.
I love history, biography, and stories of God's redemption; plus I am a New Yorker! Because of this I did connect to the book and author. I loved the details and even read the notes. I could picture Joy growing up in NYC, attending college at Hunter and Columbia, and yet being quite dysfunctional due to her dysfunctional home. She was brilliant, yet probably did have a grandiose view of self.
What struck me was how God chose her, who appears to be an unlikely person, to redeem. I was deeply touched by the description of the night when she turned to God. She was redeemed but still a sinner...both Joy's and Lewis's life stories offer hope to me. They both had a yearning for a place just beyond their grasp, that God had planted in their hearts.
While she pursued Jack Lewis he was attracted to Joy;s mind and her ability to help him work through his own sad childhood (first through two years of letter writing and later in face to face conversation. Yes, he may have been immature in his relationships with women, but God is sovereign and did allow this relationship to develop. Joy brought Lewis her mixed up self, and together, with God, they experienced human love and some emotional and spiritual healing. I don't condone all of Joy's behavior, but I definitely see the hand of God at work in their story.
After they were married the second time, Joy and her two sons came to live with Lewis and his brother Warnie. Two little brothers with two big brothers. When Joy died, all four of them would have lost their mothers at a young age (as Jack and Warnie lost their mother when they were young boys.) As Edith Schaeffer would say, God was weaving a beautiful tapestry.
The parts about NYC, the communist party, and Joy's life with Bill Gresham was fascinating and sad to me. As a nurse, I made the connection between the radium treatments for thyroid problems and Joy's later diagnosis of cancer. I do wish there had been more details at the end especially about what happened to sons David and Douglas, but perhaps I will read Lenten Lands one day. I did get Joy's Smoke on the Mountain (about the Ten Commandments) as a result of reading the book.
I heard Ms. Santamaria do a book talk a few months back in NYC and hope she will continue to research and write biographies.