As a Christian that’s also really into the “great literature,” it finally became inexcusable that I’d never read the Confessions of Saint Augustine. Augustine composed the book some time around 400 A.D. (BCE just doesn’t seem appropriate when talking about Augustine) and he intended it to be both a general story about his life leading up to and including his conversion to Christianity. It’s widely considered to be the first Western autobiography and it’s a foundational text of Christianity as well (plus, and this is no small thing, Bob Dylan’s I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine). I intend to read a few different translations; this one is a Penguin translation from the sixties. It’s always hard to review a work in translation when you haven’t read it in any other translations, but I’ll say that the structure of the book is quite interesting; the book is almost entirely directed to God, for one thing, which requires the language to be quite intricate and ornate. It’s divided into thirteen sections, with the first ten dealing with Augustine’s life & conversation; the final three, oddly, deal with a textual analysis of the first chapter of Genesis. Some editions delete these last three books; this one includes them. The book is not particularly compelling from the pure reading pleasure standpoint for the first bit; the details of Augustine’s life aren’t all that interesting, at least for a while. After he joins a Manichean cult, things pick up quite a bit as he explores the ideas of the Manicheans versus his later Christian ideas. But it’s the sections dealing with his actual conversion that are just incredible. They’re raw and extremely intense and emotional. Augustine’s wrestling with Christianity and the conviction that it is the true faith are visceral and violent. Sections seven & eight are almost entirely taken up with this and they are riveting. The parts of the book that get philosophical in terms of existence and the nature of things as varied as time and memory are also really interesting to me, though they would not be to a lot of people I’m guessing. The first third or so is pretty dull, but then it gets a lot better. Looking forward to getting into some other translations. 3 stars.
tl;dr – foundational piece of Western literature and Christianity has more than a couple of dull patches, but there’s passion and fire here as well. 3 stars.