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Damascus Gate Hardcover – May 14, 1998

135 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

In his earlier novels, Robert Stone has taken us to such hot spots as Vietnam, Central America, and that ultimate sinkhole of depravity we call Hollywood. This time around, it's Jerusalem. Given Stone's gift for depicting both political and personal embroilment--indeed, for making the two inextricable--this particular city is an inspired choice. For starters, Jerusalem remains a sacred destination for Muslims, Jews, and Christians and a hotly contested one. It's also a magnet for hustlers, fanatics, and millennial dreamers, a generous assortment of whom populate the pages of Damascus Gate. As always, Stone introduces a (relatively) innocent American into the picture--a journalist named Christopher Lucas. This career skeptic prides himself on his detachment: he prefers the kind of story "that exposed depravity and duplicity on both sides of supposedly uncompromising sacred struggles. He found such stories reassuring, an affirmation of the universal human spirit." Yet Lucas, a lapsed Catholic, has journeyed to Jerusalem at least in part to recharge his devotional batteries. And as he's slowly drawn into a terrorist plot--which involves drugs, arms smuggling, and a plan to blow up the Temple Mount--Lucas sheds his detachment in a hurry. Stone's novel functions as an expert thriller, whose slow, somewhat clunky wind-up is more than compensated for by a brilliant grand finale. It is also, however, a dogged exploration of faith, in which cynics and true believers jostle for predominance. "Life was so self-conscious in Jerusalem," the author reflects, "so lived at close quarters, by competing moralizers. Every little blessing demanded immediate record." It's hard to imagine a more vivid record of these mutual blessings--and maledictions!--than Robert Stone's.

From Publishers Weekly

From its sublime triumphs to its noble failures, Stone's first novel since Outerbridge Reach (1993) is a major work in every aspect, a sprawling, discordant prose symphony. In Jerusalem, which he depicts as a holy Bedlam, Stone finds the perfect setting for the spiritual agonies that have marked his most powerful writing. In that city, everyone suffers from the burden of faith, or lack of it, and everyone wants something, usually at any price. Expat American journalist Christopher Lucas wants a surer identity?born Christian and Jewish, he feels rooted to neither faith?as well as love and, of course, a good story. But his desire has limits, drawn by conscience, and so he serves well as the reader's proxy, a normal man surrounded by seekers of the absolute. Around Lucas swirl addled saints, addicted sinners, con men, cruel members of Hamas and even crueler Israeli security forces. All the parties have their own agendas, most of which hinge on a conspiracy among extremist Israeli Jews and American Christians to blow up the Temple Mount and usher in Armageddon. Stone's presentation of this narrative backbone can be mechanical and sometimes seems extraneous to the novel's main theme of the wages of faith. More captivating is an ancillary plot involving a drug-blasted seeker's attempts to elevate a manic-depressive Jew as a world savior; one of his pawns, Sonia Barnes, an American Sufi who's also Lucas's love interest, proves as compelling as any Stone heroine. Most extraordinary, though, is the author's passionate etching of landscapes both physical and spiritual. The book opens slowly, with a diffuse if portentous ramble through the city, though the narrative intensifies through scenes of terror and moral gravity?particularly in a nightmare Gaza strip inflamed by riot?until Jerusalem and its people coalesce to iridescent indelibility. Bold and bracing, ambitious and inspired, Damascus Gate is, even for its flaws, an astonishment. 100,000 first printing; $150,000 ad/promo.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (May 14, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395665698
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395665695
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (135 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #847,170 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

ROBERT STONE is the author of seven novels: A Hall of Mirrors, Dog Soldiers (winner of the National Book Award), A Flag for Sunrise, Children of Light, Outerbridge Reach, Damascus Gate, and Bay of Souls. His story collection, Bear and His Daughter, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and his memoir, Prime Green, was published in 2006.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

102 of 108 people found the following review helpful By Doug Vaughn HALL OF FAME on January 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The range of evaluations for this book in the customer reviews is all the way from one star to five. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Robert Stone's Damascus Gate, I have to wonder why the numerous one and two star reviews. The most frequent criticisms are ones that are quite true: the book is long on description, it is very complex, there are a lot of characters and much of the situation in which the plot unfolds must be inferred since the author doesn't spell it out for us.
Nevertheless, the writing is brilliant. This is a book for people who love reading; not for people who simply want a good story with familiar characters and a predictable conclusion. Stone spends a lot of time in this book really setting the stage before the plot is even unwound. To readers who are impatient to 'get on with the story', this approach is going to be frustrating. But to readers who appreciate what Stone does with language and can revel in the images created, this part of the book is a pleasure in itself.
I would not recommend this book to everyone. It does require more effort and concentration than a typical thriller (just as Le Carre does) and the pleasures derived from the character and plot presuppose a reader more in tune with Graham Greene than with Grisham. The author wants us to think long and hard about what we are reading and he has done an admirable job of creating a scenario where all the forces that have made the middle east a consistently unstable place are shown coming together in the crisis situation the plot leads to. I found this book very satisfying.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
I appreciate novels which have ideas and make me consider the validity of my world-view. Stone is not a favorite of mine, but this is a novel of such profound beauty that I can't find the words to describe it. I hope those who look for meaningful, richly textured novels as a source of personal joy will give this book a chance.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By John Harding on December 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
You have to wonder about a book that features no fewer than 47 recommendations spread over 6 pages and the front and back covers. Daphne Merkin (The New Yorker) states that this is "[t]he definitive book about Israel," and other reviewers are no less ecstatic. I found Damascus Gate to be a good book, with significant strengths and weaknesses. It was the quality (and quantity) of the reviews, however, that prompted me to write this comment of my own.
Another recent author who has written about Israel, Herman Wouk, has his narrator in Inside, Outside (Avon, 1987) make the following point: "That is an absolute literary gold mine, alienation." This, I believe, goes a long way towards explaining the reception of DG among its enthusiastic middle- and high-brow critics. DG is really the definitive book, not of Israel but of alienation.
The main protagonist is a detached Catholic/Jewish writer, the product of an illegitimate union, who fervently wants a faith he cannot himself embrace. Lucas, alternately admitting and denying his identity, suffers from physical alienation as well: he is largely impotent (although cured by a good woman, thank you for asking). Stone also invests him with a fashionable drinking habit and a mysterious source of income.
How can any reviewer with intellectual pretensions not fall in love with Lucas? He is a tortured soul enjoying a pleasant bohemian lifestyle in interesting surroundings. This was my college fantasy as well. Stone sets the mood for this wonderfully: the pages are littered with erudite expressions in Latin, Hebrew and Arabic; there are references to Noam Chomsky, Fats Waller, the Zohar, Miles Davis, Sufism and "the Jew-despising [T.S.] Eliot" (p. 136).
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Robert Kelly on December 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
A really great book on the nature of faith and a darn good thriller as well. Difficult subject, but this is one heck of a writer. I liked it so much I returned to it for a second reading. One of the most interesting novels you'll read, _if_ you like to think.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Tom Gillis on January 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
Getting close to page 150, I put the book aside in exasperation. I'd just finished reading an almost page-long description of a room that wasn't entered -- a room that was, evidently, irrelevant to the story (was there any relevance to the Holman Hunt reference?) -- followed by a description of the clothing of a guy in another room ("A man in an ugly brown lightweight suit, wearing a tie the color of faded broccoli pizza..." ) who then said "Hi there, fella." Faded broccoli pizza? I'd grown tired of the lengthy descriptions, the pointless dialog, the meandering plot (actually, there may have been no plot -- the "meandering" was probably due to my effort seek order in chaos), the blizzard of characters introduced (then left behind) for no apparent reason. But, most of all, I was annoyed by the passing references and especially by the italicized non-English words on almost every page, a literary device used to make those in the know feel smug and knowledgable, and the rest of us feel awestruck at the author's erudition (by the way, I'm familiar with both Holman Hunt and "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte" (not "...Louis Napoleon," as the author has it) -- Ha! so there!).
Fortunately, I picked the book up again and eventually discovered a fine novel, with an interesting plot, great pacing, and excellent writing. One scene, an execution, is among the best fiction passages I've ever read -- absolutely rivetting.
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