FOR THE TIME BEING by Annie Dillard


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A work of piercing loveliness and sadness, an inquiry into the meaning and significance of life, from Pulitzer-winner Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 1972; The Living, 1992; etc.). Early on in her inquiry, Dillard quotes St. Augustine: “We are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do understand, then it is not God.” It is this dilemma, the incomprehensibility of God and our profound need to understand, that underlie this graceful examination of the big questions—life and death, good and evil, the source of holiness. Dillard considers these cosmic issues by looking at the particular, whether a blue crab spied in the desert or a newborn being bathed and swaddled by a nurse. Agilely, Dillard weaves together several narrative threads that seem disparate but that through the poetry of her thought and style come together into an Ecclesiastes-like series of examinations. A thread called “Sand” follows paleontologist and religious thinker Pierre Teilhard de Chardin through his long exile to China and the journey on which he discovered Peking Man. And “China” is set during the author’s own trip to the East, when she witnessed the unearthing of thousands of statues, an army of clay soldiers dating back 2,200 years and intended to guard the grave of the ancient Emperor Q—in. These soldiers represent the might of the great emperor—but in Dillard’s delicate inquiry, they come also to represent his cruelty and by extension the cruelty of tyrants throughout history and, by further extension, all calamities, even natural, that have befallen humankind. “Seeing the broad earth under the open sky,” she writes of the clay army, “and a patch of it sliced deep into corridors from which bodies emerge, surprised many people to tears. Who would not weep from shock? I seemed to see our lives from the aspect of eternity, I seemed long dead and looking down.” One of those very rare works that will bear rereading and rereading again, each time revealing something new of itself.

Pub Date: March 30th, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-40380-9
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999


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