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Three Women in Dark Times: Edith Stein, Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil Paperback – 9 Aug 2001
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"The darkness of the decade 1933-1943 was at least partially illumined by the energetic syntheses of thought and action that Courtine-Denamy skillfully examines in the three remarkable women of this book's subtitle. What animates the comparison are stark differences overlaid on basic similarities. . . . Highly readable."--Publishers Weekly. August 21, 2000.
"Courtine-Denamy sympathizes with Arendt's stance, but she presents Weil's amor fati with exemplary clarity. Her incisive work is highly recommended for larger public and academic libraries."--Library Journal, October 1, 2000.
"A fascinating and powerful account. . . I recommend Courtine-Denamy's book highly. It inspires one to delve more deeply into the study of these three women and their 'dark times.'"--Michael J. Kerlin, La Salle University. Theological Studies, Vol. 62, No. 2, September 2001
"This dense and important book is an absorbing presentation of the lives and thinking of Edith Stein, Hannah Arendt, and Simone Weil, three brilliant 20th-century philosophers who remain influential today. . . Her book should be a springboard for those who wish to continue to read and carry on the work of the brave, clear-sighted women she has helped her readers understand."--Sally Cunneen. National Catholic Reporter, April 13, 2001
"Courtine-Denamy sets them against the travail of Europe from 1933 to 1943. . . The treatment of each thinker individually, comparatively, and with respect to her understanding of this travail is striking, insightful and sophisticated but not meant to be comprehensive."--Choice, Vol. 38, No. 11, July 2001
"In this engaging and absorbing book, Sylvie Courtine-Denamy interweaves the stories of three extraordinary women who lived through the darkest period of the Twentieth Century. Each of them was born a Jew, but reacted in radically different ways to her Jewish background. Arendt positively affirmed herself as a Jew; Weil became a Christian but never joined the Church; Stein became a nun and died in Auschwitz. Each of them was extremely precocious and studied philosophy with some of the most distinguished philosophers of the time. After exploring their childhood and youth, Courtine-Denamy follows their destinies, year by year, from 1933 through 1943. A moving, passionate, and informative account of three women intellectuals confronting the Nazi horrors." --Richard J. Bernstein, New School for Social Research
"Sylvie Courtine-Denamy's narrative of the intellectual, cultural, and political contributions of these extraordinary women situates their work within the rise of European totalitarianism and anti-Semitism, revealing not only their personal tragedies but also their outspoken courage on behalf of others and their enduring legacies as writers, teachers, and activists. Three Women in Dark Times is a compelling study of the darkest decades of the twentieth century."--Shari Benstock, University of Miami
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I have known of Arendt for many years, and have read some of her works, and just recently encountered Simone Weil (I found a reference to her work "The Iliad or the Poem of Force"), and started obtaining some of her works. I had not previously known of Edith Stein and her works.
For most of us today that did not experience the travails of the Jews in Europe starting in 1933, this book is eye-opening. Everyone knows about the concentration camps (Edith Stein died in Auschwitz), but we don't know what people such as these three gifted and perceptive women faced as the Nazis dominated Europe. Hannah Arendt was chased out of Germany to Paris in 1933, and then after a stint in an interment camp in the south of France escaped to the USA in 1941 Simone Weil escaped to the USA but then she went to London and died there in 1942.
The reason I decided to write this review was to critique a couple of points about the translation from the original French.
On the very first page I find the word "anti-Semitism". This is the standard spelling, but it is not the spelling that Arendt uses in her book "The Origins of Totalitarianism". There the word is consistently spelled "antisemitism", but no explanation is given of this choice. Elsewhere, in the book "The Jewish Writings" published by Schocken in 2007 and available in paperback and Kindle editions today, there is a footnote to the chapter "Antisemitism", an incomplete essay written by Arendt in the 1930s, that explains that the term "Semitic" was a linguistic term at the beginning of the 20th century, and not a racial or ethnic term. The implication is that it makes no sense to call something "anti-Semitic". That is presumably why Arendt uses what is still considered a non-standard spelling of the term. I would have hoped that the translator or editors of this volume would have known about this issue and at least put in a footnote. I checked a copy of the French original of this work and it spells the term "l'antisémitisme" so the spelling choice does not originate there.
The second critique of the translation (so far) is that on the very next page I find the word "Jehovah". Why does this construct of the consonants of one Hebrew word with the vowels of another Hebrew word appear here? Surely this mistake of Protestant translators of the Old Testament does not appear in the original? Again, I checked the French text and there the word is "YHWH". If the translators had simply retained that rendering no one could object.
Summary: Worthwhile book, but be wary of the translation. I wish I could fluently read the French original.
I was hoping to put the three lives into the context of the intellectual and social world they lived in, and how and why they made their individual decisions on philosophy, religion, and their approach to the questions posed by both Nazism and the feminist movement.
But little detail is given about the intellectual life. We are told the names of their mentors: but not any details of what these mentors taught (a major flaw for the non philosophy student who is not familiar with Heddiger etc.).
At the same time, except for some fine passages on Simone Weil, there is little detail on the inner lives of the women: we see only the outline of their parallel lives, often mixed together in a confusing manner. Arendt's affair with her professor, a subject recently treated in detail in a recent Atlantic magazine article, is given one sentence. Stein converts, with no more detail on her inner life than one could read in a blurb in the Catholic encyclopedia.
In summary, the author fails to provide details for the novice to understand the lives of these women, but does not go into sufficient depth for a philosophy student to learn anything new.
However, the passages on Simone Weil are an exception to my criticism. I did learn a lot about both her writings and why she thought and wrote her famous letters.
First, my likes: the study of the women's work, characters, and respective reactions to World War II and its circumstances; the historical and culture commentaries; the book's overarching spiritual and philosophical ruminations (many of which I found to be remarkably similar to my personal experience, despite being a contemporary American male, living in another country and another century). My dislike: the author's writing style, which was far too rigid and academic for my liking (though this is purely personal preference, and even then, it failed at thwarting my overall enjoyment, or respect for, the book). All in all, there is much to be learned from 'Dark Times,' and on a broad array of topics, from the human to the intellectual to the universal, much of it framed in the War's many shocking and baffling events (which, in my opinion, are transmuted somewhat by the many profoundly educational books that sprung forth in the War's wake, in "lemons out of lemonade" fashion). In a word, I felt quite enriched by this text.
My thanks goes out to this book's author, subjects, and publisher. I am grateful for, and have benefited from, your work and service.
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