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Lying Awake Paperback – October 9, 2001
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The story hinges on Sister John's discovery that her visions are in fact the result of mild epileptic seizures. As she learns from her neurologist, temporal-lobe epilepsy commonly brings about "hypergraphia (voluminous writing), an intensification but also a narrowing of emotional response, and an obsessive interest in religion and philosophy." Dostoyevsky, the classic victim of this condition, wrote of his raptures: "There are moments, and it is only a matter of five or six seconds, when you feel the presence of eternal harmony.... If this state were to last more than five seconds, the soul could not endure it and would have to disappear." An exact description of Sister John's visions. The question she now faces is whether to go ahead with surgery--and risk obliterating both her spiritual life and her art--or cling to a state of grace that may actually be a delusion ignited by an electrochemical imbalance.
Using a very limited palette, Mark Salzman creates an austere masterpiece. The real miracle of Lying Awake is that it works perfectly on every level: on the realistic surface, it captures the petty squabbles and tiny bursts of radiance of life in a Los Angeles monastery; deeper down it probes the nature of spiritual illumination and the meaning and purpose of prayer in everyday life; and, at bottom, there lurks a profound meditation on the mystery of artistic inspiration. Salzman made a highly auspicious debut in 1986 with Iron and Silk, a memoir of his years in China, and since then he has dramatically changed key in every book--most recently from the absurdist American suburban chronicle of Lost in Place to the artistic-crisis-cum-courtroom-drama novel The Soloist. Lying Awake is quieter and more sober than Salzman's previous narratives, but it is also more accomplished, more thought-provoking, and more highly crafted. --David Laskin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
It's significant that Salzman's heroine takes the religious name of "John of the Cross," the great Carmelite mystic who writes of the "nada" of God. Her crisis is John's dark night of the soul, and it also faces all of us who search for God. Sister John's final discovery about the soul's hunger for the Divine is one that may surprise you. But in Salzman's artful hands, it rings absolutely true.
Five stars isn't enough for this book. Nothing short of a National Book Award can do it justice.
Salzman's prose is as spare and delicate as any I have read -- and yet it conveys so very much. Life for the cloistered Sisters is revealed to the reader without romanticizing -- in all of its simplicity, hardship and beauty. His descriptions of the nuns' cells, the chapel, the monastery garden all shine with a gentle but firm light -- they all seem so present and real. The emotions that pass through Sister John are just as real -- this journey she is taking is one of the soul, and it is not an easy one. Her journal entries are so spiritually evocative --
'an invisible sun
a shock wave of pure Being
swept my pain away, swept everything away
until all that was left was God.
In another entry, she describes the dissolution of the Self to the Eternal Will:
'You were here all along.
I pierce the universe.
God pierces me.Read more ›
I read this book straight through in one sitting just like Anne Lamott did which she relates in her blurb on the back cover. I also plan to read it again today, much more slowly and contemplatively. What blew me away was the spiritual depth of the book, the slow, painful dawning of enlightenment (much like watching a magnificent sunrise that takes the silent landscape from total blackness to a sparkling kaleidoscope of color and birdsong), that Sister John experiences.
The clincher for me was that I heard the author relate that he is not a spiritual person. Well, Mr. Salzman, whether you know it or not, you ARE a spiritual being (as we all are) and God has used you to pour another little pitcherful of light into this dark, thirsty world. And I thank you!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I rarely read such books, and when I do it’s principally because someone has thrust them on me. Not always, though. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Gridley
It was really informative and well worth the read. I think it gives many of us an insight into how challenging such a life can be, but also very fulfilling.Published 5 months ago by Virginia Boding
I loved the book. I tried to recommend it to my bookclub. Fascinating look inside a cloister. I will try to read other books by this author due to his descriptive yet succinct... Read morePublished 6 months ago by AK
This was really a beautiful little book. It is sparse, quiet, and profound, and it challenges ideas about what it means to encounter the divine.Published 6 months ago by Sheryl
One of my absolute favorite books. I first heard about it because of a story in The New Yorker, and immediately bought it. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Jane Rochester
Sparse and beautifully written. The author's voice, choice of words conveys the nature of the environment in which the nuns work. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Carolyn
This is a very thoughtful book, well-written, which tells the story of a nun whose comfort is a very clear sense of the Lord's presence, more like the ecstasies of St. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Just the Facts, Ma'am
I ordered this for a books club read. I was skeptical about it. Life in a cloistered convent did not seem to be that exciting. However, I found myself pulled in. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Maria
MR SALZMAN HAS WRITTEN AN AMAZING CHARACTER DISCRIPTION OF A CARMELITE NUN'S LIFE AND STORY. WOULD LOVE TO READ ANY NEW BOOKS FROM THE WONDERFUL AUTHOR.Published 24 months ago by Zandra Hanson