I have to admit that this is a difficult review to write. I just finished reading Joy: Poet, Seeker and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria. It's the biography of Joy Davidman Gresham who became the wife of C.S. Lewis. It isn't difficult because the book was bad. On the contrary, it's an extremely well done biography, and I was absorbed in the story of Joy's life from the beginning. It's difficult because reading this biography confirms for me that even my spiritual heroes have feet of clay.
You see, I'm a black and white person. Even though I'm fallible, I want spiritual leaders who aren't. And reading this biography of Joy gave me the distinct impression that one of my favorite spiritual writers lived a rather messy life at times. Joy's life was most decidedly messy. And Jack's- C.S. Lewis's- wasn't always perfect either.
From the book's description:
Joy Davidman is known, if she is known at all, as the wife of C. S. Lewis. Their marriage was immortalized in the film Shadowlands and Lewis’s memoir, A Grief Observed. Now, through extraordinary new documents as well as years of research and interviews, Abigail Santamaria brings Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis to the page in the fullness and depth she deserves.
A poet and radical, Davidman was a frequent contributor to the communist vehicle New Masses and an active member of New York literary circles in the 1930s and 40s. After growing up Jewish in the Bronx, she was an atheist, then a practitioner of Dianetics; she converted to Christianity after experiencing a moment of transcendent grace. A mother, a novelist, a vibrant and difficult and intelligent woman, she set off for England in 1952, determined to captivate the man whose work had changed her life.
Davidman became the intellectual and spiritual partner Lewis never expected but cherished. She helped him refine his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and to write his novel Till We Have Faces.Their relationship—begun when Joy wrote to Lewis as a religious guide—grew from a dialogue about faith, writing, and poetry into a deep friendship and a timeless love story.
Abigail Santamaria does an excellent job examining the life of Joy Lewis. With many, many references to her extensive research, she guides readers through Joy's early life, her rocky first marriage, her conversion to Christianity, and her pursuing C.S. Lewis after being introduced to his books. The biography is one that is so compelling and well done that it drew me in as well as a fiction novel would have.
And, although I walked away with a little disappointment in a spiritual hero, I also acknowledge that we are all, at times, disappointments on our spiritual journeys. And I appreciate the author's willingness to delve into the story- not to make Joy or Jack heroes and not to villainize either of them either- but to present the facts as much as we can know them and to open the door to the life of Joy, the woman that C.S. Lewis came to deeply love.
This is an excellent biographical read. I give it 5 stars and a PG rating for content. You can find Joy on Amazon here.
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