Saint Augustine's Childhood Confessions by Garry Wills
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The traditional title for St. Augustine's classic devotional work The Confessions can be misleading. Because it is a transliteration, not a translation, of the Latin title, it encourages readers to think of the work as an autobiography, when in fact it is a prayer. Saint Augustine's Childhood, Garry Wills's translation of the first book of the Confessiones renders the work in fresh language, corrects scores of misinterpretations, and explains the prayerful nature of the book's structure, style, imagery, and rhetoric. The text describes infancy and the period during which children learn to talk, seamlessly incorporating scriptural allusions that have pockmarked previous translations. The concise notes and commentary, and a crucial appendix, bring Augustine's ideas about language acquisition into dialogue with more contemporary theories, such as Noam Chomsky's. Like Wills's short biography of Augustine for the Penguin Lives series, this project is masterfully rendered, and will be appreciated equally by scholars, students, and the general reader. Wills's sophistication is leavened by an appealing lightness. He describes one Latin term as "a nice frog-croak of a word"; a period of Augustine's adolescence is "a year of mild hell-raising"; and, paraphrasing Chesterton, Wills memorably suggests that "original sin becomes easier to understand at the moment when, on a long summer's afternoon, bored children begin to torture the cat." --Michael Joseph Gross