From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. With a family history of untimely death and madness, Saldana easily took to a career of danger journalism, reporting from risky locales. In a deliberate attempt to stop courting danger, Saldana 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 Saldana'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, Saldana 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 Saldana's scholarly knowledge of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism subtly infuse her story. An Eat, Pray, Love
for the intellectual set, Saldana's beautiful memoir should not be missed. (Feb.)
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In 2004 Saldaña went to Damascus to study Islam on a Fulbright fellowship. Knowing no one there and lacking living quarters, she went door-to-door, asking for help. Finally, she knocked on a door incongruously labeled “10 Downing Street.” In this as in many other incidents, her writing is most evocative as she carefully describes, for instance, the “perfumed” streets of Damascus’ Old City, “prayer beads dangling from store windows and glimmering in the sun.” She freely admits going to Syria to escape her travails and relieve a broken heart. She discusses being an American in Syria during the Iraq war (“unsettling”), clumsily learning Arabic, her fickle faith, her tendency to leave things unfinished, her habitual falling in and out of love, and her relationship with a young French novice monk. This lovely work is magical and poetic about a part of the world and a time—the Middle East in the post-9/11 era—in which many have become keenly interested. --June Sawyers