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A riveting memoir about one woman's journey into Syria under the Baathist regime and an unexpected love story between two strangers searching for meaning. When Stephanie Saldana arrives in Damascus, she is running away from a broken heart and a haunted family history that she has crossed the world to escape. Yet as she moves into a tumbling Ottoman house in the heart of the A riveting memoir about one woman's journey into Syria under the Baathist regime and an unexpected love story between two strangers searching for meaning. When Stephanie Saldana arrives in Damascus, she is running away from a broken heart and a haunted family history that she has crossed the world to escape. Yet as she moves into a tumbling Ottoman house in the heart of the Old City, she is unprepared for the complex world that awaits her: an ancient capital where Sunni and Shia Muslims, Christians, Alawites, Kurds, and Palestinian and Iraqi refugees share a fragile co-existence. Soon she is stumbling through the Arabic language, fielding interviews from the secret police, and struggling to make the city her own. But as the political climate darkens and the war in neighboring Iraq threatens to spill over, she flees to an ancient Christian monastery carved into the desert cliffs, where she is forced to confront the life she left behind. Soon she will meet a series of improbable teachers: an iconoclastic Italian priest, a famous female Muslim sheikh, a wounded Iraqi refugee, and Frederic, a young French novice monk who becomes her best friend. What follows is a tender story of a woman falling in love: with God, with her own life, with a country on the brink of chaos, and with a man she knows she can never have. Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, The Bread of Angels celebrates the hope that appears even in war, the surprising places we can call home, and the possibility of true love.


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A riveting memoir about one woman's journey into Syria under the Baathist regime and an unexpected love story between two strangers searching for meaning. When Stephanie Saldana arrives in Damascus, she is running away from a broken heart and a haunted family history that she has crossed the world to escape. Yet as she moves into a tumbling Ottoman house in the heart of the A riveting memoir about one woman's journey into Syria under the Baathist regime and an unexpected love story between two strangers searching for meaning. When Stephanie Saldana arrives in Damascus, she is running away from a broken heart and a haunted family history that she has crossed the world to escape. Yet as she moves into a tumbling Ottoman house in the heart of the Old City, she is unprepared for the complex world that awaits her: an ancient capital where Sunni and Shia Muslims, Christians, Alawites, Kurds, and Palestinian and Iraqi refugees share a fragile co-existence. Soon she is stumbling through the Arabic language, fielding interviews from the secret police, and struggling to make the city her own. But as the political climate darkens and the war in neighboring Iraq threatens to spill over, she flees to an ancient Christian monastery carved into the desert cliffs, where she is forced to confront the life she left behind. Soon she will meet a series of improbable teachers: an iconoclastic Italian priest, a famous female Muslim sheikh, a wounded Iraqi refugee, and Frederic, a young French novice monk who becomes her best friend. What follows is a tender story of a woman falling in love: with God, with her own life, with a country on the brink of chaos, and with a man she knows she can never have. Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, The Bread of Angels celebrates the hope that appears even in war, the surprising places we can call home, and the possibility of true love.

30 review for The Bread of Angels: A Memoir of Love and Faith

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rachelfm

    I read this in one sitting, and consider it one of the most important religious memoirs I've read. So, I think this book is selling itself short as a forbidden love story; the real heart of the book is about the author's 30 day silent Ignatian spirituality retreat in the Syrian desert. The author strikes a nice balance, assuming an educated interlocutor in the reader while providing a lot of handy political, historical, religious, and linguistic context. For example, it's not every forbidden love I read this in one sitting, and consider it one of the most important religious memoirs I've read. So, I think this book is selling itself short as a forbidden love story; the real heart of the book is about the author's 30 day silent Ignatian spirituality retreat in the Syrian desert. The author strikes a nice balance, assuming an educated interlocutor in the reader while providing a lot of handy political, historical, religious, and linguistic context. For example, it's not every forbidden love memoir that gives me insight into the Council of Chalcedon and resultant sectarianism or etymological trivia about Arabic. The author is recounting a year in Syria she spent on a Fulbright while a divinity student, having set out on a quest to learn more about the Prophet Issa in Islam (you might know him as the big JC.) While the year starts poorly -- she's depressed, just went through a breakup, George W. Bush gets re-elected and she's harassed by secret police while living in one third of "The Axis of Evil" --- it gets pretty interesting when she goes to a desert monastery to spend Ramadan in the hands of a hard-core Jesuit. And really, hard-core Jesuits are just what a girl needs to snap out of her post-modern navel-gazing. All I can say is that anybody who comes out the other side of one of these thirty day silent retreats deserves a lot of respect, because they have been forced to encounter all their flaws and spiritual misgivings and existential questions and deal with them. I also really loved how the stories of major religious figures/prophets we share with Islam are related as she begins to study with a female religious scholar and read the Quran in Arabic. Oh yes, and there is a hunka hunka forbidden novice monk in there. Which is fine. But read this book to get a better understanding of how Christianity and Islam co-exist in their ancient homeland, and how to ask the big religious questions in a personal, authentic, and sometimes, hilarious ways. First read 2/26/10; reread for book group 4/7/12.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    4 Stars mean I really liked it (according to this system) but the stars, as usual, don't really work for me. The Bread of Angels is just short of amazing. This is a year long journey of the heart that takes us from a fairly mundane family life to a fairly mundane love affair between two rather unworldly academics in the US to life in the fascinating back lanes of a Christian ghetto in Damascus, and a desert monastery. Central to the journey is the story of the author's immersion in the rigorous d 4 Stars mean I really liked it (according to this system) but the stars, as usual, don't really work for me. The Bread of Angels is just short of amazing. This is a year long journey of the heart that takes us from a fairly mundane family life to a fairly mundane love affair between two rather unworldly academics in the US to life in the fascinating back lanes of a Christian ghetto in Damascus, and a desert monastery. Central to the journey is the story of the author's immersion in the rigorous discipline of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, and a search for a call, be it to the love of God as a nun, or love in the secular sense. Little did I know that the practice of the Spiritual Exercises tends to leave people spiritually exhausted and on the verge of nervous breakdowns. Stephanie Saldana's rendering of her time practicing left me wanting to know a whole lot more about a discipline I always thought (by the way it's advertised in local churches) of as a pleasant weekend retreat. Along the way are trips into the author's study and eventual fluency in Arabic and some interesting insights into language and culture; and an exploration of the Quran (Koran) from Western/Eastern/Christian/Muslim perspectives. Note that the subtitle leads with Love - and so we get a love story on many levels - self, family, mate, others, God. The reason I note this is as a bit of a warning because the love travels in the realms of girly and godly, and the girly stuff was a little hard for this guy. And, the chapter headings should also give you an idea of how seriously the book takes itself (though remember, I did find it entertaining) - The Fallen World; Incarnation; Crucifixion; Resurrection. That's a lot of psychic space to cover in a year, but Ms. Saldana has crafted a memoir that rests comfortably (though not on totally equal footing) with my favorite spiritual memoirists - Annie Dillard, and Kathleen Norris. I learned a lot from this book (while being entertained) and that's about the highest praise I can give. The one issue that I had with The Bread of Angels that I never feel with the Ms's Dillar or Norris, was the oh woe is me whining that works its way into every section. It's something I had to get past, but defeated my wife and caused her to set the book aside. I'll tell you, though, if you can get past it you'll be rewarded with an illuminating read, and a conclusion that had me saying, "Oh, good!"

  3. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

    This book is in my top five favorite books read this year. Stephanie Saldana has a way with words, and she captures the essence of what it's like learning a language and being a foreigner, as an American in pre-war Syria. Her spiritual journey both inspired me and left me asking questions about what it means to follow Jesus. This book is in my top five favorite books read this year. Stephanie Saldana has a way with words, and she captures the essence of what it's like learning a language and being a foreigner, as an American in pre-war Syria. Her spiritual journey both inspired me and left me asking questions about what it means to follow Jesus.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Annika Paxman

    I won this book off Goodreads first reads. I'm always a bit hesitant about memoirs. I can't help wondering if the story is as it happened or if it is how the author wants us to believe it happened. Either way I read this book skeptically, but was immediately engrossed and drawn into the life of Syria. The sights, sounds, smells, even the religious and political upheavals were tangible and beautifully written. As she continues her journey to a desert monastery for a month long "Spiritual Excercis I won this book off Goodreads first reads. I'm always a bit hesitant about memoirs. I can't help wondering if the story is as it happened or if it is how the author wants us to believe it happened. Either way I read this book skeptically, but was immediately engrossed and drawn into the life of Syria. The sights, sounds, smells, even the religious and political upheavals were tangible and beautifully written. As she continues her journey to a desert monastery for a month long "Spiritual Excercise", as well as her visit home afterwards bothered me, and I sincerely wasn't sure I would be able to finish the book. Thankfully, the story again returned to the streets of Damascus as well as her study of the Quran and teaching English to Muslim girls in a mosque, all of which was thorougly and beautifully captivating. I would probably read this book again, to again learn of more of the religion's, politic's, and custom's of the Middle East. I would, however, skip part two and a portion of part three.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Terzah

    Beautifully written descriptions of Damascus and the Syrian desert, as well as a clear love of the Arabic language (and humanity in general), pushed this memoir of spiritual and personal growth out of the ordinary. My favorite descriptions were of children playing near a mosque, of the moment the language clicked for the author after weeks of struggle and mistakes and of her deepening forays into the poetry of the Quaran. The love story was very romantic, too. The one quibble I had was with her Beautifully written descriptions of Damascus and the Syrian desert, as well as a clear love of the Arabic language (and humanity in general), pushed this memoir of spiritual and personal growth out of the ordinary. My favorite descriptions were of children playing near a mosque, of the moment the language clicked for the author after weeks of struggle and mistakes and of her deepening forays into the poetry of the Quaran. The love story was very romantic, too. The one quibble I had was with her tendancy to melodrama and a relative lack of humor, but when one is a) in one's twenties and b) scarred by a rough family history, these are normal consequences. Her knowledge of the religions she immerses herself in, and the cultures she's surrounded by, is deep and enriching. I'd put this book wayyyyy above the self-indulgent Eat Pray Love any day.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lisal Kayati Roberts

    This book is now on my top 10. I can’t say enough. Will gift it to everyone I know. I am affirmed, loved and changed by this woman’s real and oh so human journey. Like my own life - I didn’t want it to end. Thank you, Stephanie, for sharing.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mandy Jo

    This week’s headline? pray. love. write. Why this book? bookslut, bookpeople, God Which book format? digital — a regret Primary reading environment? at la madeleine Any preconceived notions? fools need signs Identify most with? she’s my age Three-word quote? “vocation in love” Goes well with? iced green tea A few weeks ago, I was driving with a friend through the desert on our way to the airport. We’d finally reconnected after three days together, and she was telling me how much the landscape inspired h This week’s headline? pray. love. write. Why this book? bookslut, bookpeople, God Which book format? digital — a regret Primary reading environment? at la madeleine Any preconceived notions? fools need signs Identify most with? she’s my age Three-word quote? “vocation in love” Goes well with? iced green tea A few weeks ago, I was driving with a friend through the desert on our way to the airport. We’d finally reconnected after three days together, and she was telling me how much the landscape inspired her. As a trees-and-running-water type of gal, I’m convinced it takes a special sort of person to seek out sparseness. I can’t help but think of Twilight’s heroine Bella, justifying her love of Arizona to Edward by evoking “a beauty that had more to do with the exposed shape of the land.” It’s one aspect of Stephenie Meyer’s worldview that stuck with me, the other being that facing off with Edward was “like trying to stare down a destroying angel.” In Bread of Angels, the desert is where the author goes to meditate, to watch her thoughts rise up as angels and demons, not leaving until she has wrestled with each of them, as Jacob wrestled with God. It’s where she struggles with the decision to become a nun, ultimately succumbing, only to spend Christmas in San Antonio and change her mind. At one point, she wonders how she will explain her decision to become a nun to her siblings, because it's the sort of off-the-wall idea that only sounds logical in the middle of the desert. I remember, yet again, that this is one of the purest reasons for writing or creating: to explain yourself to someone. Like the way it took three days of us being together for my friend to tell me, as we crossed the desert in her Navajo-blue truck, that there were times when she was certain that this landscape was God’s gift to her. I said I’d give anything to feel that way about a place. She reminded me that home can be, and usually is, inside us. Other cultural accompaniments: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, The New York Times: Modern Love (February 20, 2010), The Twilight Saga, San Antonio Girl by Lyle Lovett, The Simpsons: "The Mysterious Voyage of Homer" (1997). Grade: A I leave you with this: "For me, being kind to people is the greatest jihad.” -Noor

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Since I"ll probably never travel to Damascus, I had to settle for this armchair travelling. This is not just a travel memoir, but really a spiritual journey memoir. While I enjoyed it somewhat, I felt it was too long in places. ("Just get to the point already.") One interesting part to me was that she underwent the spiritual exercises of Ignatious, which is a very specific 30 day retreat, and she did it in the desert. I have heard about this retreat,so it was interesting to see what it involved. Since I"ll probably never travel to Damascus, I had to settle for this armchair travelling. This is not just a travel memoir, but really a spiritual journey memoir. While I enjoyed it somewhat, I felt it was too long in places. ("Just get to the point already.") One interesting part to me was that she underwent the spiritual exercises of Ignatious, which is a very specific 30 day retreat, and she did it in the desert. I have heard about this retreat,so it was interesting to see what it involved. The monastery in the desert sounded really wonderful. I admire her that she learned Arabic so well, and made friends with so many people in Damascus. And that she was so truthful in the telling of her life story. It would still be nice to go to Damascus.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    I absolutely love this book. For its beautiful prose, its beautiful love story, its search for meaning, the way it shares other cultures, especially ones that are so foreign to many in these trying times. It teaches us that we are all one, that we are more alike than different, and the differences we have are not so scary. I admire Stephanie for her courage to travel alone to places I would not dare to go alone, I admire her for opening her heart so that we could learn from her journey. This is I absolutely love this book. For its beautiful prose, its beautiful love story, its search for meaning, the way it shares other cultures, especially ones that are so foreign to many in these trying times. It teaches us that we are all one, that we are more alike than different, and the differences we have are not so scary. I admire Stephanie for her courage to travel alone to places I would not dare to go alone, I admire her for opening her heart so that we could learn from her journey. This is a book I will keep on my bookshelf forever to read and reread. Thank you Stephanie Saldana.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    A new friend gave this to me on the plane to Boston this week. She's read it several times and sensed I would like it. Since I loved her 10 minutes after meeting her, I suspected she'd be right. I read it in couple days at a cabin on a lake in Maine, sometimes falling asleep midpage cause I didn't want to put it down, sometimes while feeding chipmunks from my hand. It was beautiful and tapped into some very deep parts of me. Definitely worth a read! A new friend gave this to me on the plane to Boston this week. She's read it several times and sensed I would like it. Since I loved her 10 minutes after meeting her, I suspected she'd be right. I read it in couple days at a cabin on a lake in Maine, sometimes falling asleep midpage cause I didn't want to put it down, sometimes while feeding chipmunks from my hand. It was beautiful and tapped into some very deep parts of me. Definitely worth a read!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Heidi

    3.5 stars. A beautifully written memoir, by a poetess who is also somewhat of a nomad, and who favors the Middle East (instead of her homeland in Texas). I absolutely savored her writing about her experiences living in Damascus for a year, on a Fulbright scholarship, as she investigated Jesus and Islam. What a fascinating subject to study! The characters she met on her "most beautiful home" on Straight Street, learning Arabic in a local university (along with a would-be Jihadi John and other inte 3.5 stars. A beautifully written memoir, by a poetess who is also somewhat of a nomad, and who favors the Middle East (instead of her homeland in Texas). I absolutely savored her writing about her experiences living in Damascus for a year, on a Fulbright scholarship, as she investigated Jesus and Islam. What a fascinating subject to study! The characters she met on her "most beautiful home" on Straight Street, learning Arabic in a local university (along with a would-be Jihadi John and other interesting students), the local shops and food and traditions, the beauty of the Arabic language, her culture shock, and especially her landlord, "the Baron," who took her under his wing - all of these were intriguing and beautifully described stories, acclimating my senses to her experiences. Her pilgrimage to a monastery in the middle of the Syrian desert, where she meets the other-wordly and yet utterly down-to-earth Frederic, was also fascinating. She also delves into her family history, and the various heartbreaks and "curses" that she grew up believing plagued her family; hence, her tendency to flee and travel the country. I found her family background utterly absorbing. If the story had stopped there - or continued in a similar fashion to its beginning - I may have given it 5 stars. But from then on, the author seems to get bogged down in describing the oddities of her spiritual mystical experiences during her one-month spiritual retreat at the monastery, complete with odd visions and all sorts of spiritual experimentation, which seemed less grounded in the Bible (she is, after all, a professing Christian) and more in her visions and feelings. From there, she seeks out a female Musim sheik who teaches her the Koran, and she continues to develop a syncretistic view of Jesus, attempting to integrate what she knows from Scripture, from her personal visions, and from the Koran. Again, if this had just been given brief attention, it would have been fine - but she focuses much of her writing in the latter half of the book on her spiritual discoveries and insights, most of which sounded very garbled to me, because they were all over the place. The final section of the book is the development of her friendship with Frederic and her romantic feelings, and some of it sounds like a soap opera or love sonnet - just not my preference for reading. The book is divided into four sections - The Fallen World, Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection. The first two sections, taken by themselves, I would likely give 5 stars to. I heartily recommend those first two sections, perhaps skimming the rest of the book. Saldana's gift for poetic description, welcoming the reader into the strange cultures in which she finds herself, is absolutely marvelous. I will definitely read anything else she writes.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jennie Menke

    Great writing. Fascinating subject. Where do people like her get their courage? A person who seems - at face value - not to have much courage in other parts of her life? Fascinating author. There is so much valuable information being taught about Syria, Islam, culture — stuff I truly didn’t know — while also chronicalling (is that even a word?) the author’s own searching journey. Oh, and plus a delicious love story, which, while I loved that, is not what I would say is the ultimate focus of the Great writing. Fascinating subject. Where do people like her get their courage? A person who seems - at face value - not to have much courage in other parts of her life? Fascinating author. There is so much valuable information being taught about Syria, Islam, culture — stuff I truly didn’t know — while also chronicalling (is that even a word?) the author’s own searching journey. Oh, and plus a delicious love story, which, while I loved that, is not what I would say is the ultimate focus of the book- or at least shouldn’t be. Loved it!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Anita Yoder

    A breath taking story, full of ache and wonder. Her voice takes me in, and I hear her ask my own questions of home and belonging. She perfectly describes the thrill of being "other" in a foreign place, and yet being taken in by so many beautiful, gifted people and given far more than she gave. A breath taking story, full of ache and wonder. Her voice takes me in, and I hear her ask my own questions of home and belonging. She perfectly describes the thrill of being "other" in a foreign place, and yet being taken in by so many beautiful, gifted people and given far more than she gave.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Carol Sill

    Intimate and interesting. A gift from a friend, I read this book very quickly and was inspired!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Stephanie Saldana spends a year (2004-2005) in Damascus. This memoir was engaging, thought provoking, and well written. I was intrigued by her descriptions of Damascus, with refugees streaming in from Iraq and other middle eastern countries. It gave me a lot to ponder. Some points: *Anti-American demonstrations come to mind when I think of the middle eastern countries. Stephanie shares several examples of people that didn't agree with American politics, but were still kind to her as an American a Stephanie Saldana spends a year (2004-2005) in Damascus. This memoir was engaging, thought provoking, and well written. I was intrigued by her descriptions of Damascus, with refugees streaming in from Iraq and other middle eastern countries. It gave me a lot to ponder. Some points: *Anti-American demonstrations come to mind when I think of the middle eastern countries. Stephanie shares several examples of people that didn't agree with American politics, but were still kind to her as an American and didn't seem to dislike her because of her nationality. For example, she talks about watching an anti-American protest in the streets of Damascus. A teenage boy steps out of line and asks her where she's from. She tells him America, he warmly shakes her hand and welcomes her to the country, then steps back in line and continues his protest. *She was in Syria after the Syrian government was accused of assassinating a top Lebanese official. She talks about the public opinion and how many people started speaking out against the government and she thought there might be a revolution. However, things quickly settled down. She initially was disappointed in the people and their willingness to accept the totalitarian regime, but then she thought about it. She realized that Syria was the safest country in the middle east and how could she judge the people for being willing to trade safety for freedom. She used an analogy of an American with a bumper sticker that says, "Live Free or Die" as they drive through their suburban neighborhood. How many Americans put their life or safety on the line for their freedom? * She makes a friend that she learns is Jewish and he asks her to let him use her apartment to pray in while she is out of town. She avoids him because she is ashamed of not being willing to risk herself to do it, but she is also afraid of the secret police and the potential ramifications of being associated with a Jew in a country where she can't even reveal she has ever traveled to Israel. It really made me stop and think about what I would do in a similar situation. *She had some interesting discussions about what jihad meant to the Muslims she met. One man, a shopkeeper, tells her the story of Mohammed returning from battle and telling his men that they are returning from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad, the greater jihad being living life every day. She had a discussion with some devout Muslim teenage girls who said that to them jihad means the struggle to do right. For instance, going to pray when they don't necessarily feel like it. Stephanie is a Catholic, pursuing a master's degree in divinity, and was in Damascus studying the Muslim view of Jesus Christ as a Fulbright scholar. I was fascinated by her search for faith. She spends time at a monastery, even considers becoming a nun. She studies the Quran in depth. Each of these experiences are profoundly spiritual and add to her faith. A few thoughts: *I was intrigued by the month she spent at a monastery in prayer and meditation. I enjoyed some of the thoughts and insights she shared about the Savior's life that she learned during that time. I do believe that Jesus Christ really came alive in her mind during that experience in ways she hadn't felt before and her experience made me want to seek some more in-depth spiritual experiences of my own. Not that I'm considering going to a monastery or anything, just that I feel compelled to put more thought/intensity into my own study of the scriptures and the Savior's life. *Stephanie studied the Quran and taught at a Muslim girls school and she had some interesting insights into the Muslim culture. I really enjoyed her insights from the Quran. I have read parts of The Quran, but this book has made me want to read the whole thing. As she studies it, she pulled out several points that were interesting to her and increased her faith. At one point, she asks, is it possible for two things to contradict each other and both be true? She finds some opposing doctrines between the Catholic and Muslim faiths, yet she also finds a lot of truth in both. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and, more importantly, it gave me a lot to ponder and think about and has been on my mind since I finished it a few days ago.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Eve

    I hesitate to use the word "mystical" when describing a book because it's one of those words that turn me off. I'm not even sure it's the proper word to be describing The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith by Stephanie Saldaña, essentially about a young woman in search of God - except she does so in a monastery in the middle of the Syrian desert. Half of the book details Saldaña's spritual exercises and visions, i.e., going through hell and undergoing self-exorcism. Let me know if I've I hesitate to use the word "mystical" when describing a book because it's one of those words that turn me off. I'm not even sure it's the proper word to be describing The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith by Stephanie Saldaña, essentially about a young woman in search of God - except she does so in a monastery in the middle of the Syrian desert. Half of the book details Saldaña's spritual exercises and visions, i.e., going through hell and undergoing self-exorcism. Let me know if I've lost you yet. One has to be in a right frame of mind to read these parts of the book. I do not doubt the authenticity of Saldaña's visions, but it might be journey that not everyone can appreciate. Saldaña's beautiful, poetic voice, however, makes her spiritual journey compelling. The other half of The Bread of Angels is much more appealing to me. My fascination with Syria is what led me to pick up this memoir - and the parts where she describes Damascus, living in the very old Christian quarter of Bab Touma, learning Arabic, discovering the Quran under the tutelage of a famous shiekha, and the colorful characters she meets are what anchor this book. ...I like to wander from my front door deep into the surrounding Old City, where I wove through the hundreds of tiny alleys around the Umayyad Mosque, taking in the smell of olive soap and spices, the endless traffic and the clang of bells just before a bicycle whizzed past, the round circles of pita bread lifted from giant ovens, the prayer beads dangling from store windows and glimmering in the sun… My favorite of the "cast of Syrian characters" Saldaña befriends has got to be the Baron, the owner of the house she is living in who informally adopts Saldaña - charming, outgoing, and very odd. There is the philosophical carpet seller, the exiled painter from Baghdad, and of course, a handsome French monk (there's always one of those, right?) with whom Saldaña falls in love. Even I do not know what I am running from. I suspect that it is not only Damascus, not only Mark no longer loving me, but another more complex and unnameable thing---a series of places or lives abandoned in the middle, stories ruptured before completion. Maybe that's the only country I have left to flee from, this house of memories appended to one another, each room a different country, a street, the name of a man I left standing in an airport, a fraction of myself. There are those who have called The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith by Stephanie Saldaña a Syrian Eat, Pray, and Love. The styles of writing are very different and other than the theme of finding one's self as well, as love, far from home, I would not compare the two. Incidentally, why do we have to travel so far from home to find God or to have a spiritual awakening? If God is in the desert with you, then can't he be found at a local park or a church/ashram/synagogue? I'm simply envious - I would love to be granted a Fullbright and live in Syria for a year - the way Saldaña tells it, the experience is beautiful, uplifting, and deeply romantic.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Broomfield

    I was fortunate enough to find Saldana’s Bread of Angels as an audiobook, and so for several days when I commuted to work, I listened carefully to this memoir. Rather than hearing the blare of politicians, the chatter of advertisers, and hyped pitch of disk jockeys, I instead absorbed some religious and cultural history, and more importantly, I found that Saldana’s wisdom—her bread of angels—became my bread as well. Throughout the work day and while falling asleep at night, I pondered the same a I was fortunate enough to find Saldana’s Bread of Angels as an audiobook, and so for several days when I commuted to work, I listened carefully to this memoir. Rather than hearing the blare of politicians, the chatter of advertisers, and hyped pitch of disk jockeys, I instead absorbed some religious and cultural history, and more importantly, I found that Saldana’s wisdom—her bread of angels—became my bread as well. Throughout the work day and while falling asleep at night, I pondered the same ageless questions that Saldana pondered, and although I did not do the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius at the desert monastery of Deir Mar Musa, I nonetheless felt as if on some minor level I at least did them vicariously through Saldana. Coincidentally, I finished the memoir shortly before the anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, and one of the many things I appreciated about Saldana’s memoir is that it helped me better feel the atrocity of that invasion and how it destroyed countless Iraqi and American lives, how it sent huge shock waves through Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and the Middle East as a whole. Damascus streets filled with refugees because of the US invasion of a neighboring country, and the violence and political upheaval reverberated throughout. Saldana’s narration of this violence and upheaval affected me profoundly, in ways that the barrage of news reports and analyses that continue a decade after the invasion never could quite affect me. I sheepishly admit that I was ignorant of the parallels between Islam and Christianity, and Saldana’s Fulbright year in Syria, to study the Muslim profit Jesus, resulted in her learning and her then teaching me what she learned. I would mull over those parallels, discovering anew how mysterious and power religion is. I enjoyed discovering vicariously the richness of Islamic culture as Saldana met regularly with the Sheikh to read and study the Koran. Saldana likewise helped me understand the value of opening my mind wider, to resist allowing myself to accept the stereotypes, misrepresentations or reductions of Islam that are inevitably a part of mainstream American culture. Most importantly, I fell in love with Damascus, particularly the Old City and the house on Straight Street (I am not sure if this is the correct spelling of the name!). The Armenian “Grandfather” or the Baron, as Saldana called him so affectionately, was my favorite character of them all. Although he could be maddening, tedious, and noisy, he was also comic relief, and warmth exuded from him as he gently cried on the night that Saldana left Damascus to return to the United States; I cried a bit, too. Of course, the love story of Saldana and the young novice monk, Frédéric, is one of the best reasons to read this memoir, and as they struggle together to hear God’s voice and understand God’s will, to recognize themselves as living, breathing humans who do something other than pray and meditate in the desert. I won’t give away the ending, because I hope that others will pick up The Bread of Angels and love it as much as I did.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Beckie

    I intended to love this book. I read an excerpt, or maybe a summary, in the New York Times- Stephanie Saldana wrote an essay for "Modern Love." I made a mental note to buy her book. If I could, I'd give this three and a half stars. I settled on four because I remember giving three to "Eat, Pray, Love," and this is to my mind a better variation on the same theme. Like Elizabeth Gilbert, Saldana is very introspective and fascinated by religion and good at getting her heart broken. She's less self-in I intended to love this book. I read an excerpt, or maybe a summary, in the New York Times- Stephanie Saldana wrote an essay for "Modern Love." I made a mental note to buy her book. If I could, I'd give this three and a half stars. I settled on four because I remember giving three to "Eat, Pray, Love," and this is to my mind a better variation on the same theme. Like Elizabeth Gilbert, Saldana is very introspective and fascinated by religion and good at getting her heart broken. She's less self-involved, despite making much of a family curse (because her grandmother committed suicide and her grandfather died mysteriously and she's had several near-death experiences). Saldana has spent her twenties traveling around the world in the wake of love affairs. She has earned a master's at Harvard Divinity School. She has been a reporter. She has moved at least every year, until falling in love with her Cambridge roommate. The fall is hard and fast and over quickly. She goes to Syria on a Fulbright. I always imagined Fulbrights being a lot of work, but Saldana seems to spend hers drinking coffee with her landlord, chatting with shop-keepers, dipping her big toe into Islam, and considering becoming a nun before, well, falling in love with a French novice monk. Saldana is clearly smart, thoughtful, deeply interested in faith. But she can be a bit grating. Maybe it's impossible to write a memoir about love and faith that isn't a bit grating. Maybe we really don't want total access to another human's innermost thoughts. I did enjoy this book. Saldana's perspective on religion is interesting, the romance quite gripping, and the timing, so soon after September 11, ups the ante. Maybe my hopes were too high. Maybe it's just hard to love a book about the life of someone still so young that seems to reach a real conclusion. But in the end, I felt something was missing.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Eapen Chacko

    In August of 2012, the Wall Street Journal featured a column by Stephanie Saldana on the kidnapping and execution of Jesuit priest and Abbot Paolo Dall'Oglio by rebel forces. At the end of the poignant column, the credit said that Stephanie Saldana was the author of "The Bread of Angels," and I knew that I had to read it. It paints an intimate portrait of a young woman of Mexican-American heritage from San Antonio, Texas, who decides to spend a year in Damascus. It could be described by readers In August of 2012, the Wall Street Journal featured a column by Stephanie Saldana on the kidnapping and execution of Jesuit priest and Abbot Paolo Dall'Oglio by rebel forces. At the end of the poignant column, the credit said that Stephanie Saldana was the author of "The Bread of Angels," and I knew that I had to read it. It paints an intimate portrait of a young woman of Mexican-American heritage from San Antonio, Texas, who decides to spend a year in Damascus. It could be described by readers as a travelogue, a story of broken romance, or yet another story of a spiritual quest. It has elements of all of these. For me, in light of our possibly deciding to attack Syria, it had a different impact. It showed how little we know about places with rich histories, like Syria. Even the author, who had studied Arabic in university and knew about Middle East history, was unprepared for what she found. The people in her story are richly drawn, and they all welcome her, and her 'landlord' adopts her as a granddaughter and invites her for coffee two or three times a day. Syrians too know very little about Americans, and Stephanie certainly opens their eyes too. Understanding among countries will never be advanced by politicians no matter how high minded or well educated. International amity and cooperation is built on the thousands of little interactions among real people, like Stephanie and her grandfather, called the Baron. This would be a great selection for a book club, and I'm going to offer it to my wife as an idea. It's a timely, but timeless read. Highly recommended.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    Although a friend gave me this book to read, I found it difficult to get through. Although there were meaningful parts to it, I still found much of it beyond my ability to relate to or even understand. Stephanie Salana shares her experiences during a year in Syria as a Fulbright scholar with the goal of learning Arabic. However, she also goes back in time at intervals sharing her history, and it was difficult to follow the time line at times. At the beginning of the book, she has gone through di Although a friend gave me this book to read, I found it difficult to get through. Although there were meaningful parts to it, I still found much of it beyond my ability to relate to or even understand. Stephanie Salana shares her experiences during a year in Syria as a Fulbright scholar with the goal of learning Arabic. However, she also goes back in time at intervals sharing her history, and it was difficult to follow the time line at times. At the beginning of the book, she has gone through divinity school at Harvard and has been invited now to go Syria on a Fulbright scholarship. She begins by going to a school in Damascus to take intensive classes in Arabic but eventually leaves that school and then goes to a monastery in the desert where she undergoes rigorous spiritual exercises to help her find herself spiritually. At the end of that period, she feels she has been called to become a nun. However, when she goes back to visit her family in San Antonio, she no longer feels that calling. When she goes back to Syria, she immerses herself in the lives of the people around her until the time her scholarship has ended. Much of the spiritual/religious experiences described in the book seemed to be in the realm of mysticisim. Personally, I found it hard to understand how someone could go to divinity school at Harvard and obtain a master's degree but not even be sure of a personal belief in God.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Hager

    This is the best book I've read all year (and I have read really good books so far already this year) and actually for quite a while before that. The easy (read: lazy) comparison is to Eat, Pray, Love because this is about a year spent in a foreign country and it's very religious and there is love but it's better. (And I liked Eat, Pray, Love; I am in in no way knocking Elizabeth Gilbert.) It's hard to tell what books will capture the public. Sometimes it's deserved (Harry Potter) but usually it's This is the best book I've read all year (and I have read really good books so far already this year) and actually for quite a while before that. The easy (read: lazy) comparison is to Eat, Pray, Love because this is about a year spent in a foreign country and it's very religious and there is love but it's better. (And I liked Eat, Pray, Love; I am in in no way knocking Elizabeth Gilbert.) It's hard to tell what books will capture the public. Sometimes it's deserved (Harry Potter) but usually it's not (I'm sure you don't need me to give examples). I hope this book will. This is a memoir that reads like a novel. Stephanie arrives in Syria as a Fulbright scholar during George W. Bush's first term in office. You might think it'd be scary, but the people there are very nice. Most of the book is about her struggles with faith and her interest in different religions. She was raised Catholic, so there's a lot of Christianity in there, but she becomes interested in Islam and learns Arabic and studies the Quran. (It's hard not to type "Koran" but she says Quran, so I'll say Quran...let's call the whole thing off?) But there's a love story, although it comes late. Seriously, read this book the second you can. It's amazing.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Rowe

    I feel a whole lot of pressure being asked to write a review for a FirstRead, but I'll give it my best shot. I have to admit that I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy this book because I'm not familiar at all with the Middle East culture, and I'm not much into books about faith and spirituality. I was so excited to find myself absolutely sucked in. This wasn't so much a story about faith, it was more about finding yourself and your purpose and path in life. The imagery was spectacular, from the d I feel a whole lot of pressure being asked to write a review for a FirstRead, but I'll give it my best shot. I have to admit that I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy this book because I'm not familiar at all with the Middle East culture, and I'm not much into books about faith and spirituality. I was so excited to find myself absolutely sucked in. This wasn't so much a story about faith, it was more about finding yourself and your purpose and path in life. The imagery was spectacular, from the description of Syrian culture and landscape to the details of Stephanie's visions. I found these to be most inspiring and moving. As if this wasn't enough, an incredibly romantic, intense, passionate, non-physical love story is thrown in the last half of the book. I've read romance novels, I've read old classics, but I don't ever recall actually FEELING what the character was feeling in my own heart. Truly, I would recommend this book to anyone. You can take the messages that is has and apply it to your own life (no matter what religion you do or don't practice!), or you can just sit back and let the book transport you to a beautiful, often misunderstood, place with lots of unexpected characters and a wonderful story.

  23. 5 out of 5

    رولا البلبيسي Rula Bilbeisi

    In 2004, the 27 year old Saldana travelled to Damascus to study "The Muslim Jesus". In this memoire, using such poetic language, she described the city of Damascus beautifully. The rich culture, the tiny allies, the food, the people, the mosks and arabic language are all illustrated in detailes. For an American to come to syria in 2004 after the Iraq war, was in itself a big challenge she had to face. However, when her life intersected with others she met during her stay (the armenian neighbour, In 2004, the 27 year old Saldana travelled to Damascus to study "The Muslim Jesus". In this memoire, using such poetic language, she described the city of Damascus beautifully. The rich culture, the tiny allies, the food, the people, the mosks and arabic language are all illustrated in detailes. For an American to come to syria in 2004 after the Iraq war, was in itself a big challenge she had to face. However, when her life intersected with others she met during her stay (the armenian neighbour, the Iraqi and Palestinian refugee), all her previous perceptions and believes changed, and she saw reality as it really is not as portrayed in the foreign media. For spiritual healing, she retreated to a christian monastery in "Mar Mousa". There, a new relationship started to develop between her and a french monk. A relationship that was a bit confusing to the reader and not very understandable. ALthough the beginning and the end were very interesting, it got a bit boring in the middle. If you liked "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert, you will definetly like this novel which is so similar in many ways.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    So far I'm enjoying this book mostly because I'm intensely interested in life in Damascus and can relate to learning Arabic. It has some continuity issues which the editor should have caught and I find them distracting. Plus, naming sections of your book after phases of Christ's life seems a little presumptuous. UPDATE: Okay, so I finished reading this book. Correction: the chapters are named after a spiritual program by Saint Ignatius. I liked it, but I should have loved it. It had all the right So far I'm enjoying this book mostly because I'm intensely interested in life in Damascus and can relate to learning Arabic. It has some continuity issues which the editor should have caught and I find them distracting. Plus, naming sections of your book after phases of Christ's life seems a little presumptuous. UPDATE: Okay, so I finished reading this book. Correction: the chapters are named after a spiritual program by Saint Ignatius. I liked it, but I should have loved it. It had all the right elements--exotic locations, discovering a new language and culture, a spiritual quest in a remote desert monastery watched over by angelic frescoes, monks, but the execution was a little drawn out and I didn't always 'get' the author. I did laugh, I did cry...but I was finishing it at 3AM, so exhaustion might have been a factor, too.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    What a wonderfully written book! Not only did the book take me on a cultural journey through the Middle East it also showed the tension and turmoil that the citizens of those countries felt. Saldana's detail in describing the tastes and smells of Damascus made me feel like I was actually there taking the walks though the alleys and sipping coffee with her. Having tried to study Arabic myself, it was refreshing to see her struggles and triumphs with the teachers and the language. Her struggles wi What a wonderfully written book! Not only did the book take me on a cultural journey through the Middle East it also showed the tension and turmoil that the citizens of those countries felt. Saldana's detail in describing the tastes and smells of Damascus made me feel like I was actually there taking the walks though the alleys and sipping coffee with her. Having tried to study Arabic myself, it was refreshing to see her struggles and triumphs with the teachers and the language. Her struggles with her spirituality and it's resulting impact on her life touched my heart in more ways than can be explained. I cried tears of joy at the finish of this book. A must read for those who have thought they will never find love again! I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Janey Bennett

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book had my interest, my respect, my admiration until the last fifth of it. The earlier parts of the book, about the lessons of living in another culture and sitting with one's personal demons and with the oldest traditions of Christianity were fascinating. When she writes about her romance with a monk (who leaves the church to marry her) her level of observation goes shallow and the reader is left mistrusting the honesty of the earlier part of the book. REad it. It's got some powerful writ This book had my interest, my respect, my admiration until the last fifth of it. The earlier parts of the book, about the lessons of living in another culture and sitting with one's personal demons and with the oldest traditions of Christianity were fascinating. When she writes about her romance with a monk (who leaves the church to marry her) her level of observation goes shallow and the reader is left mistrusting the honesty of the earlier part of the book. REad it. It's got some powerful writing in the earlier parts. Just be warned: the author sells out. Why? If she's capable of writing with such clarity, why dumb down the relationship? Or then, why mention it at all? I was disappointed, because it started with such promise.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    I finished this last night in the wee hours and awoke early, a bit unnerved. As I combed through my memory for various personality disorders, I hit upon histrionic personality disorder as likely describing a condition the author suffers from. Considering her most difficult early life, I say this with compassion. Although the author paints a vivid, loving and evocative picture of both Syria and her Muslim friends, the tone of the book was disturbing. It is a highly romantic and, I feel, exaggerate I finished this last night in the wee hours and awoke early, a bit unnerved. As I combed through my memory for various personality disorders, I hit upon histrionic personality disorder as likely describing a condition the author suffers from. Considering her most difficult early life, I say this with compassion. Although the author paints a vivid, loving and evocative picture of both Syria and her Muslim friends, the tone of the book was disturbing. It is a highly romantic and, I feel, exaggerated accounting of her experiences. Perhaps her determination to force a spiritual crisis in her life bothered this reader. Still, all in all, her portrayal of the flavor of the Middle East and insights into Islam and its adherents made this a worthwhile read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ozma

    This spiritual memoir is just lovely. I enjoyed almost every word. I can fault it for being a bit melodramatic, but, honestly, I generally mostly dug it. If you are multi-faith inclined, you will really like this book. The author has great knowledge of the major monotheistic religions (including Islam), which shines through but in a non-teachy way. The author is speaking in Boulder in February, and I'm really excited to hear her. Again, a very beautiful, soulful book. It's really not to be misse This spiritual memoir is just lovely. I enjoyed almost every word. I can fault it for being a bit melodramatic, but, honestly, I generally mostly dug it. If you are multi-faith inclined, you will really like this book. The author has great knowledge of the major monotheistic religions (including Islam), which shines through but in a non-teachy way. The author is speaking in Boulder in February, and I'm really excited to hear her. Again, a very beautiful, soulful book. It's really not to be missed.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jillian

    I went into reading this book thinking that it was more a memoir of a romance, albeit a forbidden one. I was surprised, then, by Saldaña's story, her focus on her faith, her deep journey into the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. All said and done though, and despite my having minimal knowledge of Catholicism, I was riveted, start to finish. Her style is so open, so honest, I felt that I was there in Syria alongside her. And having been to Syria myself, I felt that she did it the justice so ma I went into reading this book thinking that it was more a memoir of a romance, albeit a forbidden one. I was surprised, then, by Saldaña's story, her focus on her faith, her deep journey into the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. All said and done though, and despite my having minimal knowledge of Catholicism, I was riveted, start to finish. Her style is so open, so honest, I felt that I was there in Syria alongside her. And having been to Syria myself, I felt that she did it the justice so many other authors do not. Truly a 5-star read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Scott

    I selected this because of a recent visit to Syria and thought it could offer new insights into a country with an amazing history that is currently torn apart by civil war and oppression. I didn't like it as much as I had hoped...I couldn't really identify with Stephanie and her personal issues... I selected this because of a recent visit to Syria and thought it could offer new insights into a country with an amazing history that is currently torn apart by civil war and oppression. I didn't like it as much as I had hoped...I couldn't really identify with Stephanie and her personal issues...

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