Celebrated for his high moral profile on charged issues--Vietnam, nuclear power, AIDS, etc.--activist priest Berrigan is...

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TO DWELL IN PEACE: An Autobiography

Celebrated for his high moral profile on charged issues--Vietnam, nuclear power, AIDS, etc.--activist priest Berrigan is also known for his secular canon: 36 books, including several volumes of poetry. Too bad that here the feverish poet gets the best of the clear-eyed prophet, delivering an indulgent autobiography that largely smothers its insights and passion in layers of purple prose and righteousness. This especially disappoints since the bare bones of Berrigan's life fascinate: the poor childhood in Minnesota and then rural New York as one of six sons born of an unhappy marriage (the willful father a key figure here, his genes so evident in the rebellious Daniel); hellish schooling under the rule of sadistic nuns; rigorous Jesuit training. Then, as a priest; the European travels; the bonding with brother and fellow-priest Philip in protest against Vietnam, leading to the notorious pouring of blood on draft files and the trial of the Cantonsville Nine; prison; further activism for gays and Palestinians and against nuclear power. But Berrigan has chosen to flesh out these bones not with muscular prose, but with vague overwriting whose occasional lyricism and strong imagery (strongest particularly in the memories of childhood) too often slips into pretentious flab; of his time in prison: ""So, in their course, went the days and months. We encountered stupendous characters, we came on reasons for hilarity and tears, we were rebuffed and remanded and summoned to petty judgment by petty minds. It was a Third Circle they were in charge of. . ."" Brief, decidedly odd ruminations on the reign of Moloch (here, ""Lord Nuke"") and the power of the cross wrap up this eccentric work. Berrigan's moral courage shines through even this fog of a memoir; but those looking here for a penetrable exposition of the good priest's life will look in vain.

Pub Date: Dec. 16, 1987

ISBN: 1556354738

Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987