Book Talk: *Devotion*, by Dani Shapiro (TLC Book Tour)

Devotion: A Memoir
Devotion: A Memoir
Dani Shapiro
Harper Perennial (2011), Trade Paperback (ISBN 0061628352 / 9780061628351)
Nonfiction/memoir, 272 pages
Source: publisher, for TLC Book Tours
Reason for reading: blog tour, personal interest

Opening Lines: “A woman named Sandra was cradling my head in her hands. We were in a small room – just the two of us – and it was so quiet I could hear the ticking of her watch. The air smelled faintly of eucalyptus.”

Book Description: Settling into the responsibilities and routines of adulthood, Dani Shapiro found herself with more questions than answers. Was this all life was—a hodgepodge of errands, dinner dates, e-mails, meetings, to-do lists? What did it all mean? Having grown up in a deeply religious and traditional family, Shapiro had no personal sense of faith, despite her repeated attempts to create a connection to something greater. Set adrift by loss—her father’s early death, the life-threatening illness of her infant son, her troubled relationship with her mother—she recognized the challenge at the heart of her anxiety: What did she believe? 

Devotion is a spiritual detective story, a literary excavation to the core of a life – it is the story of a woman whose search for meaning in a constantly changing world ultimately leads her home.

Comments: There’s something about entering parenthood that can prompt those who’ve drifted away from the religion of their upbringing to consider a return to it. In my own story, the wish to make a religious framework part of our son’s education led my first husband and me back to the Catholic Church around the time he started school.

The decision wasn’t quite as cut-and-dred for Dani Shapiro. Raised in an observant Orthodox Jewish family, she’d left behind most of those practices in young adulthood, and the sudden loss of her father after a car accident when she was twenty-three was a further break with them…but a space grew where those traditions had been, and a yoga practice that was more physically than spiritually effective didn’t fill it. As other losses followed – her mother, the pre-9/11 New York City she’d made her home – and parenthood was threatened to be cut short by the rare seizure disorder that overtook her infant son, Shapiro became increasingly aware that she lacked a sense of faith in God, and increasingly focused on the questions that raised for her. Among those questions: was there a place for the Judaism she was raised with in her life, and that of her family, now?

Devotion explores Shapiro’s learning to live with, and within, the questions – exploring Torah study and mediation, finding a synagogue for her family in the Connecticut countryside far from the urban Jewish community in New York, attending yoga classes and Buddhist retreats. She comes to understand that her personal history will always make her “complicated with Judaism;” it will always be part of who she is, and will always color her worldview. This is a concept that makes sense to me, and appeals as a way of characterizing the continuing Catholic influence on my own perspective.

This isn’t a conventional faith memoir. It has a unifying theme, but it really doesn’t have a strong narrative outline or linear structure, and there’s no particular epiphany that provides a climax. The writing shifts back and forth across various timeframes and experiences over more than 80 brief chapters, sometimes reflective, sometimes philosophical, sometimes reporting and sometimes speculating…but, to me, never sounding anything other than authentic and honest. I related to Shapiro’s questioning and did get a sense that she was finding a way to live comfortably with it; seeing that happen for someone else helps me feel a bit more comfortable living with my own.

Dani Shapiro continues to explore the questions on her blog, Moments of Being. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter, and is eager to discuss Devotion with book clubs via Skype chats.

Rating: 3.75/5
This book counts for the Memorable Memoirs Reading Challenge.

Other stops on this TLC Book Tour:
Tuesday, February 8th: Chefdruck Musings
Wednesday, February 9th: Kelly’s Lucky You!
Thursday, February 10th: Book Club Classics!
Monday, February 14th: {Mis}Adventures of an Army Wife
Tuesday, February 15th: Books Lists Life
Wednesday, February 16th: nomadreader
Tuesday, February 22nd: Coffee and a Book Chick
Wednesday, February 23rd: Colloquium
Friday, February 25th: Books in the City
Monday, February 28th: English Major’s Junk Food
Tuesday, March 1st: she reads and reads
Tuesday, March 1st: The House of the Seven Tails
Wednesday, March 2nd: Boarding in My Forties
Thursday, March 3rd: Man of La Book
Buy this book from an Independent Bookseller 
Buy this book from an Independent Bookseller

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