The literary marketplace is no stranger to the genre of personal journeys in quest of spiritual awakenings, religion, or any number of other life paths people undertake to find wholeness, self-awareness, and meaning. From Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson to Elizabeth Lesser’s Broken Open and the spirited travels of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love among others, books for lost searching souls abound.
One book that stands alone as an especially rewarding read is Dani Shapiro’s Devotion (HarperCollins/Harper). A thoughtful memoir of a woman whose spiritual journey and self-analysis of existential angst eventually leads to discovering her own personal truth, one not dependent or guided by a particular thought or philosophy. An affluent life, success as a writer and teacher, adoring husband and child, hardly shields Shapiro from the turmoil of inner conflicts, skepticism, and the need to confront an eternal question “Who was I, and what did I want from the second half of my life? “
Framed against the backdrop of life-defining moments—9/11, death of parents, coping with the near fatal illness of an infant child, and entering mid-life—Shapiro’s story unfolds slowly as she examines doubt, decisions, faith (or lack thereof), a tense relationship with her mother and a distant Orthodox Jewish father whose early death leaves her further adrift.
When her nine-year old son inquires intently (a sure signal to any parent that attention must be paid) about their religious leanings, Shapiro’s odyssey begins in earnest. Given her temperament and a writer’s habit of living inside of one’s head, she sets the tone of her story, “I wanted to climb all the way inside the question – past tremendous resistance – and see what was there.”
As she ponders and probes, Shapiro, rather unwittingly, finds the Buddhist teacher whose writings she admires, a yogi, and a Rabbi. She experiences the rituals of her Orthodox relatives, attends a yogi retreat, and meets periodically with a Rabbi. Toward the book’s ending that also signifies a new life chapter there is the acceptance and acknowledgement of the ultimate reality – to co-exist with doubt and an unquiet peace.
Shapiro is an intelligent and gifted writer, an author of several books of fiction and nonfiction and a well-received memoir Slow Motion. The minutiae of everyday living that unconsciously weigh us down and an honest self-scrutiny of her beliefs are finely detailed and movingly told. Devotion is one woman’s journey, but one that will resonate, inspire, and guide others to courageously chart their own course.