SIMONE WELL: A Life by Simone Petrement
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This fluent 600-page translation from French is the first full-length biography of Simone Weft, the WW II French intellectual who thought hard, put the poor first, lived out her theories, and--as a secularized Jew--discovered God for herself. Petrement, a lifelong friend of SW, became a depository for letters, papers, and oral memories and, though examination of grandparents, roots, lycee teachers, and term papers make a slow first few pages, the matter-of-fact language and orderly presentation of the record soon produce a convincing portrait and an engrossing story. Weil's work as a teacher (she could instruct anyone from peasant to full professor) and in syndicated labor movements; the crucial year in a factory (thereafter--""when any human being speaks to me without brutality, I cannot help having the impression there must be a mistake""); the opening to Catholicism via accidents like Gregorian chant and George Herbert's verse; and the affirmation, ""Christianity is preeminently the religion of slaves. . .slaves cannot help belonging to it, I among others""--all this was accompanied by vigorous contributions to intellectual debate and generous friendships. The flaws are allowed to show. In the end Weil did not get the two things she wanted--to receive the sacraments without abandoning the right to think for herself, and to die for the (French) cause. The books which are the by-product of her passionate integrity are likely to be more sought after than ever as a result of this first-class biography; while it does not alter the lines of our present picture, it does flesh it out, so that Weft becomes more understandable, more human.

Pub Date: Jan. 6th, 1976
Publisher: Pantheon