In a Carmelite monastery on the outskirts of Los Angeles, life continues virtually unchanged for centuries. Sister John of the Cross has spent years there in the service of God. The only one to experience intense visions and the author of a best-selling book on religion, she is regarded by the other nuns as a spiritual master. But Sister John's ...
In a Carmelite monastery on the outskirts of Los Angeles, life continues virtually unchanged for centuries. Sister John of the Cross has spent years there in the service of God. The only one to experience intense visions and the author of a best-selling book on religion, she is regarded by the other nuns as a spiritual master. But Sister John's visions are accompanied by powerful headaches and when a doctor reveals that they may be dangerous, she faces a devastating choice. If her spiritual gifts are symptoms of illness rather than grace, will a 'cure' mean the end of her visions and a soul once again dry and searching? This is the dilemma at the heart of Mark Salzman's new novel. Opening up the mysterious world of the cloister, he draws a brilliant portrait of women who are still drawn to the rigors of religious life, and especially of one woman's trial at the perilous intersection of faith and reason. A best-seller in America, LYING AWAKE is a novel of remarkable empathy and imagination.
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Publishers Weekly, 2000-07-17 Mysticism meets modern medicine in this intriguing récit of a nun's dark night of the soul. It's 1997, and Sister John of the Cross, a Carmelite nun in a monastery just outside Los Angeles, seeks treatment for epilepsy, although the remedy threatens to diminish her formidable spiritual powers. The Carmelites place heavy emphasis on prayer, and over the years this discipline has helped Sister John to develop miraculous visionary gifts. When severe headaches precipitate a collapse that requires medical intervention, Sister John finds the process starkly juxtaposed against her centuries-old traditions: she discovers it's almost impossible to discuss infused contemplation with a neurologist. Is her continual prayer "hyperreligiosity"?; her choice to remain celibate "hyposexuality"?; her will to control her body "anorexia"? Although she accepts a CT scan and its diagnosis, Sister John determines that faith offers a more substantial, meaningful reality. Written with simple elegance, alternating narrative and prayer, the tale is engaging yet maintains a curious emotional elusiveness. A drama centering on the realm of mysticism is bound to be difficult to describe and, like Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy, this story doesn't aim to render the nun's spiritual life and psyche in accessible terms for lay readers. What Salzman conveys with perfect clarity is that momentary, extraordinary mental state in which physical pain becomes pure, lucid grace poised between corporeal reality and eternity, a state that Sister John desires to prolong for a lifetime. Salzman's talent for calling forth the details and essence of unfamiliar realms is well known: his memoir, Iron & Silk, was acclaimed for its deft rendering of life in China, no less authentic for being written by an outsider. With this third novel (after The Soloist), the author continues to surprise with his unorthodox choices and consistently challenging themes, story lines and characters. Eight illus. by Stephanie Shieldhouse. (Sept.) FYI: The Soloist was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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