The Bread of Angels
A Journey to Love and Faith
By Stephanie Saldana
(Anchor, Paperback, 9780307280466, 320pp.)
Publication Date: February 8, 2011
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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 Saldaña 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 Frédéric, 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.
Stephanie Saldaña grew up in Texas and received a B. A. from Middlebury College and a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School. She was a Watson and Fulbright scholar and has won several awards for her poetry. She lives in Jerusalem and teaches at the Honors College for Liberal Arts and Sciences, a partnership of Bard College and Al-Quds University.
- In the beginning of the book, Stephanie is faced with a difficult decision: pursue a Fulbright scholarship in Damascus—an utterly foreign place—or stay in Cambridge, where she is comfortable with a man she loves, but who doesn’t love her in the same way. Have you ever been confronted with a dilemma like hers? How have you resolved or coped with it? Looking back on it, would you have done anything differently?
“Beautiful. . . . A lovely book, filled with human longing and redemption and dazzling discoveries about faith in its many forms.” —The Oregonian
“[A] poignant memoir about hitting rock bottom in love and faith. . . . Inspired and powerful. . . . This is a fresh, courageous book that gives new meaning to the word memoir.” —Dallas Morning News
“A Middle Eastern Eat, Pray, Love.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Tragic, hopeful, bittersweet, tender and insightful.” —Austin American-Statesman
“Beautifully written. . . . The Bread of Angels is simultaneously a window into an alien culture, a spiritual journey, and a love story.” —The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)
“Brace yourself for an intense inner and outer journey. The Bread of Angels is a many-layered personal story, ricocheting from Damascus to Texas to the desert fathers to scruffy Cambridge. A passionate young scholar confronts war, love, the mysteries of language, and God. Stephanie Saldaña is up to the task. A brilliant debut.” —Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun
“A fascinating, back-alley travelogue of contemporary Damascus, as well as journey to the core of the Quran. Most of all, [The Bread of Angels] is an inspiring document of battle-tested faith.” —San Antonio Express-News
“What sets Saldaña’s book apart from so many others is the very convincing way in which she writes about prayer—and the difficulty of praying.” —Newsweek
“A remarkable, wise, and lovely book from a truly gifted new writer, The Bread of Angels brims with originality and insight. There is poetry here—the language and the depth of attention recall the young Annie Dillard. But this is, above all, a love story, and a compelling one. Not many people can write transcendent, mystical prose and also create a page-turner that keeps you up nights. Stephanie Saldaña’s achievement is extraordinary.” —Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March
“Saldaña vividly evokes life in [Damascus], where Arab and Armenian Christians have lived for centuries. . . . Her perceptive comments on life in Syria, her account of teaching in a Muslim school and her friendship with a female Islamic scholar who taught her about the Koran and the Muslim Jesus further enrich an already superior work. . . . Luminously rendered.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“In the tradition of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, Stephanie Saldaña’s The Bread of Angels is a stunning memoir that is both a contemporary spiritual quest and a sweet, surprising love story.” —Julia Alvarez, author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
“The Bread of Angels is an elegant and brave memoir about the spiritual journey that transformed Stephanie Saldana’s life. The unlikely setting . . . infuses her story with delightful characters and anecdotes, and powerful historical and religious associations. . . . Immensely readable and moving.” —Haaretz
“Stephanie Saldaña has created something of beauty out of her transformation from a life of chaos and her search for peace. [The Bread of Angels is] an elegant, dazzling memoir of a life lost and found in the ancient city of Damascus.” —Shelf Awareness
“A fragrant, elegantly observed journey that captures the dilapidated glory of Damascus and the resilient wit of its people. Saldaña’s tale of spiritual dislocation and self-discovery is remarkable for its poignancy and keen intelligence.” —Azadeh Moaveni, author of Lipstick Jihad and Honeymoon in Tehran
“Many readers will value the book for its cultural importance, for the sharp observations Saldaña makes about Americans in the Middle East, based on her knowledge of the region and her ability to demolish certain stereotypes about Christian-Islamic relations. . . . This is the type of memoir, recounting a journey to the depths of the soul, that makes the personal universal.” —America magazine
“The Bread of Angels is dazzling, delicious, wise, brilliantly funny, endearing in every way. It is a love letter to the Middle East and to one’s own entire life, replete with doubt and fear, faith and deep connection. A masterpiece.” —Naomi Shihab Nye, author of 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East