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The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faithby Stephanie Saldana
I almost left this book on the shelf, thinking it was just a spinoff of Eat, Pray, Love. I'm so glad I didn't! The bones of the story are similar: woman travels to foreign country on the heels of an emotional breakup and finds true love (that last part feeling most fairy-tale-ish). But Bread of Angels is different enough that I'm wondering if perhaps Joseph Campbell overlooked the archetypal story of the woman who flees, after an experience of brokenness, to reconstruct her sense of self. Or maybe I just missed it. In any case, Saldaña's quest is more explicitly spiritual, and she's returning to the Middle East, where she's already spent a great deal of time. She writes with tenderness for the people she encounters: Iraqi war refugees, her landlord with his lost life in Lebanon, and the devout Muslim girls she teaches English to in the school run by the Sheikha (a female Sheikh) with whom Saldaña studies. Her love for Damascus, her year there as an American studying the Muslim Jesus, and her several journeys to a Christian monastery that conducts mass in Arabic — all make for a book with an outward focus that balances the inward, carrying a powerful message of hope in both directions.
Synopses & Reviews
From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review: With a family history of untimely death and madness, Saldaña easily took to a career of danger journalism, reporting from risky locales. In a deliberate attempt to stop courting danger, Saldaña attempted a normal life at Harvard Divinity School. When the love affair that had provided her a sense of normalcy ended, she opted to take the Fulbright scholarship she had won to study the Muslim Jesus in Damascus, arriving in Syria in 2004 amid the post-9/11 war in Iraq. The tension of American foreign policy and Saldaña’s own vivid memories of death and destruction witnessed during her reporting life earlier in the Middle East haunted her, particularly when she embarked upon the Catholic rite of spiritual exercises at the Syrian desert monastery of Mar Musa. In lovely prose and with elements of foreshadowing, Saldaña shares her struggles to become religious again and overcome feelings that God has abandoned her. Touches of melodrama weigh down an otherwise gorgeous and enlightening read, as Saldaña’s scholarly knowledge of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism subtly infuse her story. An Eat, Pray, Love for the intellectual set, Saldaña’s beautiful memoir should not be missed. (Feb.)
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Praise for The Bread of Angels:
“A remarkable, wise, and lovely book from a truly gifted new writer, The Bread of Angels brims with originality and insight. There is poetry here—the language and the depth of attention recall the young Annie Dillard. But this is, above all, a love story, and a compelling one. Not many people can write transcendent, mystical prose and also create a page-turner that keeps you up nights. Stephanie Saldaña’s achievement is extraordinary.”
—Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of March
“In the tradition of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, Stephanie Saldaña’s The Bread of Angels is a stunning memoir that is both a contemporary spiritual quest and a sweet, surprising love story . . . Carefully observed, beautifully detailed, structured like a ceremony, The Bread of Angels takes us from a fallen world into a luminous, resurrected one through faith and love and the exquisite skill of a fine writer who writes like an angel ”
—Julia Alvarez, author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents
“Brace yourself for an intense inner and outer journey. Bread of Angels is a many-layered personal story, ricocheting from Damascus to Texas to the desert fathers to scruffy Cambridge. A passionate young scholar confronts war, love, the mysteries of language, and God. Stephanie Saldaña is up to the task. A brilliant debut.”
—Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun
“A fragrant, elegantly observed journey that captures the dilapidated glory of Damascus and the resilient wit of its people. Saldaña’s tale of spiritual dislocation and self-discovery is remarkable for its poignancy and keen intelligence.”
—Azadeh Moaveni, author of Lipstick Jihad
An award-winning Fulbright scholar and Harvard Divinity School graduate presents an account of her year in Damascus, where she studied Jesus's role in Islam, witnessed an influx of refugees displaced by America's Middle East invasion and fell in love with a young French novice monk.
When Stephanie Saldana arrives in Damascus, she's twenty-seven years old, brokenhearted, and running from a haunted family history that she has crossed the world to escape. But in anancient Christian monastery carved into the desert cliffs, she will be forced to confront the life she left behind. Soon she will meet a series of improbable teachers: a female sheikh, an elderly neighbor, a woundedrefugee, and Frederic, a young French novice monk who becomes her best friend. What follows is one woman's tender story of falling in love: with God, with her own life, and with a man sheknows she can never have. Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, The Bread of Angels celebrates the surprising places where we can find a home, and the possibility of truelove.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
STEPHANIE SALDAA grew up in Texas and received her B.A. from Middlebury College and a master's degree from Harvard Divinity School. Fascinated by Islam and Eastern Christianity, she has lived in cities throughout the Middle East, including a year in Beirut working as a journalist for the English-language newspaper The Daily Star. She was a Watson and a Fulbright scholar and has won several awards for her poetry. She lives in Jerusalem.
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