This memoir is very introspective and thoughtful. Saldana examines closely her life before moving to Damascus. She tries to look at her past failures in love objectively and to understand what she craves in her life. Retreating to a monastery for a month of silence and soul searching, she wrestles with whether or not she should commit to God and become a nun. After the month is over, she must re-immerse herself in not only Damascus city life but life at home in the US and ultimately make the decision whether or not to finish her Fulbright year as well as if she has truly been called to become a nun. But everything about her priorities changes when she returns to the monastery and falls in love with a novice monk. While she studies the Qu'ran with a respected teacher, learning the different but similar versions of scripture found within, she must also wait and see what path her own life will take, practicing a calmness, a resoluteness, and a patience that help her to come to terms with so much else in her life.
Well written and affecting, this is an openly honest and challenging story. Saldana has taken a long journey to know herself, to learn about a different culture, and to recognize and appreciate real love. She has drawn a vibrant and fascinating Damascus and has captured the multiple inhabitants, from the older man who adopts her as a granddaughter to the Iranian refugees humanly and with affection. The spiritual journey portion of the book was, to me, the weakest part of the book but I suspect that conveying the mystical in words for others is not an easy task. However, because this was a major portion of her narrative, it needed to draw me in more than it did. I found myself more interested when her journey involved other people, the Sheikha, the Abbot at the monastery, Frederick. And her reflections on her life prior to arriving in Damascus, her family's personal history, her vivid painting of Damascus itself and the people therein, and the love story all carried me along. This would make for a good book club book for those bookclubs which don't shy away from spirituality and will interest anyone with a fascination for the Middle East.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this book.