Welcome. :)

Welcome to my blog. Here I share my successes and failures along my journey to becoming an anthropologist. My most prominent interest anthropologically are the new approaches to handing food security/healthy eating in the US, particularly in urban "food deserts". I enjoy the Anthropology of Tourism as well; combining food and tourism has scholarly promise. My other interests which have converted into anthropological hobbies of sorts include converts to Islam, diaspora of Muslims, and MENA in general. I also have some interest in historical archaeology.

I welcome comments, discussion and even respectful debating. I will however keep discussions to a respectable level. I reserve the right to ban anyone from this forum.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Review: 'The Bread of Angels'

I want to say that this is more of a book discussion opposed to a book review. I just wanted to say that I KNOW this is not scholarly! :-)

Book Review: ‘The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith’ written by Stephanie SaldaƱa
Publisher: Doubleday, New York; 2010
Genre: Memoir

“Above all, a love story…a page- turner that keeps you up nights.”-Geraldine Brooks

Yesterday, I finished reading one of the most powerful books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. That statement speaks volumes because I am a real “book worm” and have been since childhood thanks to my parents. After reading this book, I spent a day having the book marinate within my soul and today, I decided on the spur of the moment to blog about it. Blogging about it is not designed to help sell more of her books; although, in my view, this book deserves to be moved to the NYT Best Seller List. This blog post is an informal book review (opposed to a scholarly one) to discuss my impressions about the book and how it has affected me.

Stephanie, the writer of the book, wrote this memoir of her time in Syria between 9/04 and 9/05. Stephanie arrived in Syria by way of a Fulbright Scholarship while she was attending Harvard University in Boston, Mass, U.S.A for an M.A in Theology at the Divinity School. At the time, she was in a failing relationship with a Harvard PhD candidate studying Russian Studies so the scholarship was an amazing ticket (unbeknownst to her at the time) out of that situation. Moreover, it was a time for her to not only complete the Fulbright work but to also reassess her life and spiritual direction.

The book opens with Stephanie arriving in Damascus looking for a permanent place to live so she gravitated to the Christian Quarter of the city and began knocking on doors. She eventually found an affordable room for rent at “the Baron’s” home. The Baron is a Christian Arabic speaking man who was instrumental in giving her practice at Arabic and being a cultural guide and a protector, especially in the first few months. As readers, were are eloquently taken along the journey of her cultural mistakes, namely language ones!

Stephanie felt a great need to get away from it all at around the 6 month mark and embark to the monastery, about an hour and a half away from Damascus. She went through a long fasting and spiritual cleansing period and in that time met a young man who was about to take his final vows of chastity, per Roman Catholic tradition. The man was French and as Stephanie described him, “a beautiful man”. They seemed to have a great friendship and obvious attraction right from the beginning. During that time, she thought she should be a nun but congruently felt a strong need to get married and have children. She was certainly faced with conflicting emotions.

The Fulbright work she was funded to do appear to take a back seat in the book; something that disappointed and surprised me. It was not a focus of the story until the middle of the book when she met with a female sheik in the city who was instrumental in helping Stephanie learn more about Islam as a faith and of course, Jesus’ role as a prophet in Islam. She develops a close relationship with the sheikha and eventually is called upon at the end of her year in Syria to teach English to young Muslim women in the madrassa for girls and women that the sheikha was instrumental in starting. That in itself, as she mentions in the book, shows the tolerance and respect the sheikha has for all people of the Book.

I will not give too much away here because the surprises throughout are part of the joy of reading this book. I found it engaging and full of hope that love, whether spiritual or human, can arrive without warning and can be achieved. Let’s just say that I cried at the end.  My own personal spiritual growth has been a work in progress and I still struggle on a day to day basis with the divine. I also have struggles with my own self image and at times, self-esteem. Stephanie may have thought she was running away from her past but she was running torward a new beginning at life.

In closing, I found her storytelling to be creative, engaging and full of life! I recommend it to anyone who is on their own spiritual growth quest or is interested in insightful personal experiences of an American abroad or, like me, who just is sometimes happy with a darn good love story!

How have you struggled with your mistakes?
Do you question God's (however you define 'God') providence, especially during times of struggle?
Has learning about or spending time with others from a different belief structure or culture helped you see your own a bit more clearly?

Opened up to all

I have opened my blog up to all once again. I may set up a private blog for invited readers. Soon, I will be presenting a book review of a wonderful book I read recently called 'The Bread of Angels'. I should be finishing it up tonight.