For the Time Being

Annie Dillard, Author Alfred A. Knopf $22 (224p) ISBN 978-0-375-40380-4
Writing as if on the edge of a precipice, staring over into the abyss, Dillard offers a risk-taking, inspiring meditation on life, death, birth, God, evil, eternity, the nuclear age and the human predicament. This unconventional mosaic, portions of which were first published in different form in Raritan, Harper's, etc., interweaves several disparate topics: the travels of French paleontologist and Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin in China and Mongolia, where his team in 1928 discovered the world's first fossil evidence of pre-Neanderthal humans; the life and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, the 18th-century Ukrainian Jewish mystic who founded modern Hasidism; a natural history of sand--an epic drama of rocks, glaciers, lichen, rivers--and of individual clouds as witnessed by painters, poets, naturalists, scientists and laypeople. Rounding out this fugue are Dillard's visits to an obstetrical ward to watch healthy newborns emerge; her survey of tragic, horrific human birth defects; random encounters with strangers; her trips to Israel, where she visited Jesus' birthplace, and to China, where, at the tomb of the first Chinese emperor, Qin--mass murderer, burner of books, Mao's idol--she inspected the terra-cotta army of life-size soldiers who guard Qin in the afterlife. Dillard's unifying theme is the congruence of thought she detects in Teilhard, Kabbalists and Gnostics: each impels us to transform, build, complete and grant divinity to the world. Her cosmic perspective can seem like posturing at times, yet it succeeds admirably in forcing us to confront our denial of death, of the world's suffering, of the interconnectedness of all people. Her razor-sharp lyricism hones this mind-expanding existential scrapbook, which is imbued with the same spiritual yearning, moral urgency and reverence for nature that has informed nearly all of her nonfiction since the 1972 Pulitzer Prize-winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. 60,000 first printing. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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FORMATS
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7871-1936-2
Hardcover - 978-0-676-54954-6
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-375-70347-8
Ebook - 99 pages - 978-0-307-47766-8
Book - 1 pages - 978-1-4417-7993-9
MP3 CD - 978-1-4417-7991-5
Compact Disc - 978-1-4417-7989-2
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-4417-7988-5
Compact Disc - 978-1-4417-7990-8
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-59040-024-1
Book - 978-1-4417-7994-6
Hardcover - 978-0-14-028525-3
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