Sunday, January 23, 2011
The Bread of Angels
I just finished The Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldana-a wonderful, educational journey through the life of a 27-year old woman studying Jesus in Islam in Damascus on a Fulbright Scholarship. The author, a native of San Antonio, with degrees from Middlebury College and Harvard Divinity. Given all of this one wouldn't be blamed if they thought The Bread of Angels might be a dry read. Trust me it's not. In fact, I found myself unable to put it down. Ms. Saldana brilliantly combines the stories of the people of her neighborhood, from the Baron, her 73-year old Armenian neighbor to Hassan, an artist and recent refugee from Iraq. Then there is the reason she is in Syria-to study Arabic and the role of the prophet Jesus in Islam. I'm personally fascinated by the topic of Jesus in Islam. Unfortunately, there isn't much written on this topic so the little tidbits in this narrative were very enlightening. I'm praying that Saldana will write a book on this topic alone. Interwoven between these two stories is that of Saldana herself-her past, her dreams for the future, her developing love story with Frederic, a novice monk at the monastary she visits.
This is one of those stories that stays with you, makes you think, helps you to realize that there is always two sides to every story. One of the strongest parts of the book, deals with ordinary citizens living in the shadow of war. Saldana moved to Syria in September 2004, just over a year after the US invasion of Iraq. While she is there a car bomb is detonated in Beirut killing a former Lebanese prime minister and Syria is accussed of responsibility, which in that region leads to more than a little tension. On top of that Syria's relationship with Israel is always tenuous. My favorite passage from the books is this one:
"And it seemed to me so strange, so utterly surreal, that in the same space of time I could be reading a book and somewhere on the other side of the earth a man was being shot, or a child was in pain, when everything in front of me looked so still and quiet and even, for a brief moment, entirely beautiful."
I often think about this when I'm reading newspaper accounts of events happening in other places. I marvel over the fact that so many people live such immensely difficult lives so this passage particularly spoke to me. This whole story spoke to me.