SILENT LAMP: The Thomas Merton Story by William H. Shannon

SILENT LAMP: The Thomas Merton Story

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The latest unnecessary biography of our century's most garrulous monk, by the Rochester priest whose previous labors in this vineyard (Thomas Merton's Dark Path, 1981, etc.) have established him as a master of the genre. The problem that confronts all Merton biographers--even Michael Mott, whose The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton remains the definitive and best work on Merton by far--is that their task was largely complete in 1948 when Merton's own autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, was published to international acclaim. A born writer whose early life could have been set to music by Verdi, Merton gave an account of bow he managed to land in Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky by way of France, Long Island, London, Greenwich Village, Cuba, and Harlem (with quite a few excursions en route) that remains unsurpassed to this day, both as a good read and as a portrait of the author's interior life. What happened to him once he got past the cloister is bound to have less interest for the common reader (although Merton's life was pretty adventurous even there) and is, once again, better described by Merton himself in his diaries and correspondence--much of these already published. Shannon tries to broaden the perspective by compiling a ""chronology"" juxtaposing events in Merton's life with larger historical phenomena (""the establishment of NATO,"" for example, or ""the publication of Finnegan's Wake""), but this doesn't really succeed in adding much to a story that most Mertonians--for whom this book is obviously intended--have learned by heart a long time since. A straightforward rehash, decently done but unremarkable.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Crossroad/Continuum