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Henri Nouwen and The Return of the Prodigal Son: The Making of a Spiritual Classic

Henri Nouwen and The Return of the Prodigal Son: The Making of a Spiritual Classic

Gabrielle Earnshaw
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The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming is Henri Nouwen’s most popular book, selling over one million copies since its publication in 1992. What accounts for its ongoing popularity as a spiritual classic?

Drawing from extensive research in Nouwen’s archives, author and Chief Archivist for the Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust, Gabrielle Earnshaw, provides a detailed account of how the book came to be written, shedding light on Nouwen’s writing process and aspects of his life experience that influenced his insights and ideas. Earnshaw examines Nouwen’s intellectual formation as well as the impact of his family and friends on the shape of the book.

Letters, many published here for the first time, give us a privileged look at Henri’s world during the nine years he took to complete the book. Earnshaw considers how it compares to other books published at the same time to place the work and its author in a historical, cultural and religious/spiritual context. Finally, she explores how Nouwen himself was changed by the book and why twenty-three years later it continues to touch the hearts and minds of 21st century readers.

“Very few spiritual books have had the impact that Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son has had. But books of this depth emerge only from a particular state of soul. Gabrielle Earnshaw, Nouwen’s long-standing archivist, traces out for us Nouwen’s state of soul as he gave birth to this precious book. You will understand Nouwen more deeply after you read Earnshaw. This is a new and wonderful contribution.”
—Ronald Rolheiser, author of Domestic Monastery and many other books

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