Synopses & Reviews
The story of four modern American Catholics who made literature out of their search for God
In the mid-twentieth century four American Catholics came to believe that the best way to explore the questions of religious faith was to write about them—in works that readers of all kinds could admire. The Life You Save May Be Your Own is their story—a vivid and enthralling account of great writers and their power over us.
Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk in Kentucky; Dorothy Day the founder of the Catholic Worker in New York; Flannery OConnor a “Christ-haunted” literary prodigy in Georgia; Walker Percy a doctor in New Orleans who quit medicine to write fiction and philosophy. A friend came up with a name for them—the School of the Holy Ghost—and for three decades they exchanged letters, ardently read one anothers books, and grappled with what one of them called a “predicament shared in common.”
A pilgrimage is a journey taken in light of a story; and in The Life You Save May Be Your Own Paul Elie tells these writers story as a pilgrimage from the God-obsessed literary past of Dante and Dostoevsky out into the thrilling chaos of postwar American life. It is a story of how the Catholic faith, in their vision of things, took on forms the faithful could not have anticipated. And it is a story about the ways we look to great books and writers to help us make sense of our experience, about the power of literature to change—to save—our lives.
"Paul Elie's book is lucid, humane, poignant, and wise. As a work of the spirit, it is universal and in no way sectarian." Harold Bloom
"They make a memorable quartet Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy in Paul Elie's brilliant new study. Founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day finally emerges as a saintly and heroic figure. Though I thought I knew everything about the other three, who were my close friends in our author-editor rapport, Elie's insights into each member of this highly gifted and complex trio (Merton, O'Connor, Percy) strike me as fresh and original and his discoveries are new. The Life You Save May Be Your Own is a remarkable book." Robert Giroux
"This thoroughly researched and well-sourced work deserves attention from students of history, literature and religion, but it will be of special significance to Catholic readers interested in the expression of faith in the modern world." Publishers Weekly
"Elie has fashioned a fascinating multiple biography of four of the most influential Catholic literary figures of the twentieth century.... These four biographies serve as a backdrop for the scholarly analysis of the inspirational intersection of life, art, and religion." Margaret Flanagan, Booklist
"This book...is difficult to characterize, because it's almost impossibly rich....This is the sort of ambitious marriage of criticism, biography, and history of which Edmund Wilson's Patriotic Gore
and To the Finland Station
are the superlative examples. Elie's book can't match the sweep and austere authority of Wilson's masterpieces, but it's an exceptionally intelligent and often elegant work, and Elie should be applauded for the reach and grasp of his literary ambition." Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic Monthly
(read the entire Atlantic Monthly review
In the mid-twentieth Century, four American Catholics discovered that the best way to explore the questions of religious faith was to write about them. The Life You Save May Be Your Own is their story, a vivid and enthralling account of great writers and their power over us. Paul Erie tells these writers' story as a pilgrimage from the God-obsessed literary past of Dante and Dostoevsky out into the thrilling chaos of postwar American life.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 475-534) and index.
About the Author
Paul Elie, an editor at FSG, has written for The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, and Commonweal. He lives in Manhattan.