MERTON BY THOSE WHO KNEW HIM BEST by Panl--Ed. Wilkes

MERTON BY THOSE WHO KNEW HIM BEST

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The title deceives--some of the 20 people reminiscing here (like Jean Jadot and Lawrence Ferlinghetti) knew Merton quite casually, and some of those who ""knew him best"" (like Dr. Jim Wygal and Tommie O'Callaghan) are not represented here--but this casual collection of memories and tributes has some rewarding moments. If nothing else, the varied character of the group, which ranges from Joan Baez to the Dalai Lama, suggests the range of Merton's friendships, the breadth of his interests, and his phenomenal magnetism. Once you met Merton, it seems he stayed in your mind: witness Georges Linières, a 72-year-old retired teacher from St. Antonin, France, and a schoolmate of Merton's 60 years before, who vividly remembers him as a mischievous bohemian, eccentrically dressed in knickerbockers and ""basket shoes,"" an intellectual prodigy at nine, but always full of jokes and high jinks. John Barber, a classmate at the Oakham School and Cambridge University, recalls how hard Merton played rugby, despite his weak athletic ability. He adds: ""He did good things to excess and got credit for them but he was inclined to go off the rails and do bad things as well. . . . He was a wildcat at Cambridge and he used to go drinking and off with girls, probably not the fight kind of girls very often."" One item repeatedly mentioned here, but usually ignored in Merton biographies, is his physical clumsiness. Dom Flavian Burns, who as Merton's abbot sent him to Thailand in 1968, paraphrases the sadly jesting comment of many of Merton's fellow monks after he accidentally electrocuted himself: ""We're not surprised, just surprised that he didn't do it sooner, living by himself in the hermitage."" But whether fellow Trappists (John Eudes Bamberger) or Buddhist monks (Thich Nhat Hanh), old friends (Robert Lax) or former students (Ernesto Cardenal), the contributors assemble a modest but convincing mosaic-portrait of Merton as a warm-blooded mensch and gifted spiritual adventurer--nicely coincident with Michael Mott's The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton, above.

Pub Date: Nov. 28th, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row