"A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken in the light of a story. A great event has happened; the pilgrim hears the report and goes in search of the evidence, aspiring to be an eyewitness.... Pilgrims often make the journey in company, but each must be changed individually; they must see for themselves, each with his or her own eyes. And as they return to ordinary life the pilgrims must tell others what they saw, recasting the story in their own terms."
In The Life You Save May Be Your Own, first-time author Paul Elie traces the lives and pilgrimages of four prolific Catholic writers of the last century. The journeys of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy paralleled one another in many ways, yet all four related accounts of their travelsboth internal and in the worldwith narratives utterly their own.
In this exhaustive, nearly 600-page account, Elie does an impressive job of weaving together and wandering between their life stories, especially considering that interactions between the four were uneven and infrequent, if marked by revealing details. Day and Merton carried on a lengthy correspondence, but never met. Percy and Merton drank bourbon together on the porch at Merton's hermitage in Kentucky, and found they had little to say to one another. In 1961, O'Connor congratulated Percy with a short note: "Dear Mr. Percy, I'm glad we lost the War and you won the Nat'l Book Award." (O'Connor's comment came in response to Percy's declaration that the South produced fine literature because defeat had joined Southerners together and given them something to defend.)