Simone Weil (1909-1943): Background information when reading What Are You Going Through

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

What Are You Going Through

by Sigrid Nunez

What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez X
What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Sep 2020, 224 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
Buy This Book

About this Book

Simone Weil (1909-1943)

This article relates to What Are You Going Through

Print Review

Black and white photo of Simone WeilWhat Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez takes its title from the writing of Simone Weil, an influential French philosopher and intellectual whose work was unusual for incorporating both left-leaning politics and religious traditions.

Weil was born in Paris on February 3, 1909 to agnostic Jewish parents. Her family was well-off and educated; her father practiced medicine and her older brother, Andre, would become a famous mathematician. At a young age, she began to adopt strong moral convictions; when she was five, she refused to consume sugar as a way of showing solidarity with the French troops fighting on the Western Front. She attended Lycée Henry-IV (a highly selective French secondary school), where she was taught by the philosopher Émile Chartier.

Weil went on to study philosophy at the prestigious French graduate school École Normale Supérieure. She earned first place in the Exam for General Philosophy and Logic with a paper on the work of Descartes, beating out fellow student and future well-known author Simone de Beauvoir, who took second. After graduating and passing the French Civil Service Examination, Weil took a position as an educator at a girls' secondary school. She continued to teach for most of her life while writing about political, social and religious issues, at times taking on other responsibilities and pursuits — for example, she worked as a factory laborer for a year in an attempt to better understand the conditions experienced by the working class.

Weil was interested in problems of social justice and bureaucratic oppression, identifying with both anarchism and Marxism. At the same time, she was critical of forceful revolution, favoring a rebalancing of labor through mutual organization. Despite being of Jewish heritage and an atheist earlier in life, Weil's work was influenced by Catholic religious traditions and her own mystical experiences. She studied multiple religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, but was especially drawn to Catholicism. Her approach to practicing the religion reflected her liberal interpretation of it: She was never baptized into the Church, and was most interested in its spiritual and ceremonial aspects. In accordance with her beliefs, she led an ascetic lifestyle that contributed to her death from tuberculosis complications in 1943.

Despite only living to the age of 34 and having a relatively short writing career spanning 15 years, Weil's impact on social and intellectual thought was substantial. Albert Camus once referred to her as "the only great spirit of our time." T.S. Eliot described her as "a kind of genius akin to that of a saint."

The Weil quote that inspired the title of What Are You Going Through is an English translation of "Quel est ton tourment?" This question appears in Attente de Dieu (Waiting for God), a series of letters and essays including many of Weil's spiritual and religious thoughts. The writings were not originally intended to be published as a book and were collected posthumously, but Waiting for God is now considered a significant philosophical work. It explores the author's criticisms of orthodox Catholicism, her belief in a natural balance between God and humanity (as opposed to a God who rules over humanity) and "sacred longing," the idea that people are driven to look for beauty by their desire to connect with a higher power. Weil suggests that asking, "What are you going through?" is a way of loving one's neighbor by acknowledging their suffering.

Simone Weil

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Elisabeth Cook

This article relates to What Are You Going Through. It first ran in the November 4, 2020 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join & Save $10!

Discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten. One-year membership: $29

Find out more

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Blue Sky Kingdom
    Blue Sky Kingdom
    by Bruce Kirkby
    Who hasn't dreamed of escaping all of the trappings of today's modern life and finding a secluded, ...
  • Book Jacket: My Heart Underwater
    My Heart Underwater
    by Laurel Fantauzzo
    Corazon — Cory — Tagubio is a Filipina-American teenager living with her family in ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Sun
    Black Sun
    by Rebecca Roanhorse
    Reading the first book in a series is always difficult because readers know that, by definition, it ...
  • Book Jacket: Somewhere in the Unknown World
    Somewhere in the Unknown World
    by Kao Kalia Yang
    Resettled refugees are mostly invisible. Their needs are rarely publicized and their struggles are ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Blind Light
    by Stuart Evers

    A multigenerational story about two families bound together by the tides of history.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Exiles
by Christina Baker Kline

The author of Orphan Train returns with an ambitious, emotionally resonant historical novel.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win This Book!
Win Jack

Return to Gilead with Jack, the instant New York Times bestseller

Enter to win Marilynne Robinson's latest novel in her classic series.



Solve this clue:

I G I O Ear A O T O

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.