In the middle of the twentieth century, four American Catholics, working independently of one another, came to believe that the best way to explore the quandaries of religious faith was in writing, 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 was the founder of the Catholic Worker movement and its penny newspaper in New York; Flannery O’Connor was a “Christ-centered” literary prodigy in Georgia; Walker Percy was 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 another’s 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 four writers’ story as a pilgrimage from the God-obsessed literary past of Dante and Dostoevsky out in to the thrilling chaos of post-war American life. It is a story of how, in their vision of things, the Catholic faith took on forms that their readers 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—and to save—our lives.