Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Books - Book Review - Lying Awake - Mark Salzman
One career that I couldn't have is being a nun, and even more restrictive, a cloistered nun. I can't be so obedient. I can't keep quiet for too long. I can't spend so much time praying. But, I admire the women who can do so.
Mark Salzman enters a quiet world in the midst of a major city. The monastery is of the Order of Discalced Carmelites of St. Theresa of Avila. The fictional convent is located in the midst of Los Angeles, CA; "Golden State Freeway to the east, Chinatown to the south, the Police Academy to the north, and Dodger Stadium a mile to the west...tucked away in a fold of hils at the end of an unmarked driveway, the monastery was as invisible as a sunken ship."
(Here's information on the real one!)
The novel is divided into small chapters, with a date and the corresponding feast day or saint's day is mostly set in 1997 and 1998 (I learned about a lot of holidays; when I was growing up, it was the time of conversion between Vatican I and II, and the religion teachers had no idea what to teach us.)
The novel focuses on Sister John of the Cross. She writes inspirational works despite her headaches, which she believes helps her get closer to God and Jesus. "Her mind fractured under the pressure. She splintered like broken glass, she became all edges and points and she was sure this had to be death, it had to be the end of everything, then her suffering blinked off."
The extern sister (who can leave the monastery, drive, and run errands) took Sr. John to the doctor who eventually told her that she has temporal lobe epilepsy. The small tumor near her ear can be removed safely and the pain will stop, but will it stop her visions and compulsive writing?
So Sr. John spends quiet time recalling her life and deciding what to do. If she has the operation, will she be able to write these words: "Faith is light, doubt is shadow. If you remove the obstacles to faith, all shadows disapper."
The novel also presents life in the monastery. During the weekly community meeting, when everyone can speak, all the nuns, except Sr. Anne vote that it's ok to have three types of fruit juices for breakfast and that the choices don't violate the vows of poverty. When Sr. John receives the news that her book went into second printing and now the roof can be repaired, she is horrified that she has been made the center of attention and blushes. She is constantly striving not to have an ego. The prayers and work that the nuns do as meditation seems to make them happy, although some nuns still have doubts of their worthiness.
This novel will present a side of Catholicism that one normally doesn't see or hear about. Pick it up when you feel that your mind can be still while reading Lying Awake.
Labels: Mark Salzman