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?


Susanne said...

Someone on another blog has recommended strongly that I read this book because I talk so much about my trip to Syria last year.:) I am glad to see you liked it as well. I will have to order it next time I place an Amazon order. So glad you shared your thoughts on it here!

How have you struggled with your mistakes?

Not too much. I believe in God's forgiveness and haven't felt condemnation from Him for things He has forgiven me for.

Do you question God's (however you define 'God') providence, especially during times of struggle?

I do struggle with this from time to time. In fact I was having a rather heated discussion with God not too many days ago, but in conclusion I was reminded where else can I turn? As the Psalmist said, "Whom have I in heaven except you?" It's not like someone else is going to take care of my problems. So I choose to keep having faith that "all things work together for good to them who love God..." as Romans 8 tells me. I keep remembering that God is Love, He is Good. I can trust Him.

Has learning about or spending time with others from a different belief structure or culture helped you see your own a bit more clearly?

Definitely!!! It's one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I thank God for bringing Arab Muslims into my life. I've learned about another culture AND religion. I consider it a joyful gift from God!

Glad to see you blogging again! Hope you are well! :)

Anthrogeek10 said...


Thanks for coming back to my blog. I have not felt *it* almost all summer. After reading this book, I decided to share. I have had an enormously stressful summer (financially and my health) and alhumdulliah I made it through with help from family and friends. I took a bit of a mental break this summer.

Anyhow, on to the topic....you went to Syria last year? What prompted you to travel there? Yes...you must. Try the library. That is where I found my copy...which is not really mine in reality. lol

I personally have forgiven myself more and more as my spiritual path deepens. I know I will make mistakes over time and I know God loves me regardless. It seems funny that the older I get, the wiser I become (although I would never say I am wise, especially based upon my choise of my soon to be ex-husband). I wish I had my life experience before I made the mistakes. :-) Double talk huh?

I think you have a great additude about life. Keep it up!

I am happy that you have educated yourself about different cultures and faiths....sometimes fear prevents humans from doing that and it is a shame because education has the power to break barriers and generate love.

Thanks for commenting.

Susanne said...

I had your blog on Google Reader and tonight I saw new posts so here I am. :)

I never wanted to travel to the Middle East not even Israel which would be more of the "holy land" for my faith. No desire. Nope.

But that all changed when I met Samer and then his friends ONLINE. :) And we became great friends. God also prompted us to go, I think. It was a wonderful way to be a good ambassador for my faith and for my country. Instead of seeing warring American Christians, they could see someone who loved them. At least that was what I wanted.

So my husband and I went there last year. I have lots of pics on my blog if you are ever bored enough to see some of the sights and foods and people we met. (Link is on the homepage..top right.) I absolutely LOVED it! The people were fantastic!

I'm sorry your summer was so stressful, but I'm glad you are finding more peace now. Nice talking to you. :)

Anthrogeek10 said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Experiences come to us in some of the most unusual ways. I did see many of your pics from Syria! Very nice!

Thanks for your kind words!


Nikki said...

I haven't read this, but I did hear Stephanie speak on a Wisconsin public radio program and it really left an impact on me. I'm sure the book would go even more in depth than her 50 minute radio interview. I may pick it up sometime. Thanks!

Anthrogeek10 said...


This is an excellent book! Hope you enjoy it.

Marahm said...

You got me so interested in this book I will go to Amazon now and buy it. I always buy books reviewed on blogs and I am never disappointed.

Najwa Pervin said...

Wow ,you have a wonderful blog ! I'll be following you a lot :)

The book seems interesting, I hope I find it in Pakistan :)