Saturday, January 28, 2012

Book Review: A Severe Mercy

In honor of the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, I will attempt to share with you some literary thoughts on the latest book checked off my to-read-list,  A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken.

A very quick summary:
  • Part love story, part conversion journal, part poem, part part grief manual, all rolled into one.
  • Traces the story of Sheldon (author) and his wife Davy through their courtship and marriage, Sheldon's service during WWII (and how Davy followed him to the war front), island exploring on a yacht following the war, continuing their education at Oxford, the development of their friendship with C.S. Lewis, their conversion to Christianity, how they served the Kingdom, Davy's strange illness and ultimate death while still in her thirties, and Sheldon's exploration of grief and mercy, all packed into 240 pages!
A few reasons why you should pick up this book:
  • Almost half of the book covers their lives before their conversion.  Sheldon refers to he and his wife as "pagans," completely wrapped up in each other with the only goal of soaking up as much beauty in the world as they could.  However, the big ideas that they wrestle with pre-conversion led them to an academic understanding of some very Christian topics, including the fact that with joy comes pain, that all humans yearn for beauty and truth, and that a husband and wife are no longer two individuals upon their marriage, but have become one.  Add to that their line of thought during their conversion, and you have got a great insight into the story of how two very well educated people were led to become Christians.
  • Read it for the beautiful, lyrical, poetic language.  The book itself contains over twenty poems by the author, his wife, and friends written during the time of the events in the book.  The romantic description of the people and places and experiences takes your breath away.
  • The book contains eighteen letters from C.S. Lewis, chronicling years of he and the Vanauken's friendship.  His wit and wisdom comes through in these personal thoughts that crossed an ocean and can apply to us today.  For example, in a letter that was one of many during the time of Sheldon's struggle to believe in Christ, Lewis concluded with, "But I think you are already in the meshes of the net!  The Holy Spirit is after you.  I doubt if you'll get away!"
  • Finally, read it because of Sheldon's take on grief and God's mercy.  Through his pain, he was able to share truths in ways I had never quite heard them put before.
Thanks, RyAnne, for sharing this book with me!

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