As the only child of a devoted Orthodox Jew and an agnostic, often critical mother, Dani Shapiro found herself searching for a spiritual practice of her own. Her father had died in a car accident, her son had survived a potentially life-threatening illness, and she struggled in her relationship with a narcissistic mother. There were the usual demands on her as a wife, mother, daughter, and successful writer – endless deadlines, meetings, errands, and obligations – and she wanted more. With a devout father and an ambivalent mother, where did she fit in? She wanted a faith to pass on to her son, but she didn’t know what she believed, so she began a spiritual quest. She consulted rabbis, yogis, and Buddhists. Ultimately, she found herself asking the questions: who am I, why am I here, and how shall I live.
At her Uncle Moe’s orthodox funeral she finds herself explaining to her son, “They believe in God differently than I do.” As she watched her relatives performing the prescribed rituals of their faith, she felt conflicted. They believed without question. They had certainty – as if they had a “lock on God.” She would always have doubt.
She continued to seek. She read. In her acknowledgements she notes the books she found inspiring during this period: For the Time Being by Annie Dillard; The Bhudda by Karen Armstrong; A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis; and many more, including the poetry of Jane Kenyon.
Shapiro and her husband joined a synagogue. Their son attended Hebrew school. She went to therapy with her mother. “Whenever I took an action – yoga or meditation practice, trying a new shul, reading a bit from the Buddhist wisdom book to Jacob in the morning, expressing gratitude at the dinner table – I felt . . . better.”
The best memoirs use the personal to connect with the universal, and Dani Shapiro does it well. She ends Devotion with this: “Each of us human, full of longing, reaching out with our whole selves for something impossible to touch. Still, we are reaching, reaching.”
I recommend Devotion for fans of Annie Dillard and Karen Armstrong.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Read all of my reviews and listen to my author interviews here and on WTIP 90.7 Grand Marais and on the web at http://www.wtip.org.