The basics: After growing up in a traditional, religious (Jewish) family, Dani Shapiro explores and confronts her feelings on religion, faith and belief in this memoir.
My thoughts: I managed to read Devotion in a single day (and a day I worked both jobs for a total of fourteen hours). I was instantly enamored with Shapiro's prose and honesty. In some ways, it's an unusual memoir. It's full of insight and memorable situations, but it lacks a traditional structure. Dani shares her thoughts and stories through short vignettes. Although the memoir is far from chronological, there's a beautiful rhythm to it. While pondering the non-linear structure, I realized one of the reasons I was so drawn to this memoir: it reads like a conversation. When you meet someone, you don't tell your story chronologically. You start with the important details, then you begin filling in anecdotes to get a clearer picture. Once a certain level of trust and comfort are established, the deeper secrets come out. After reading this memoir, Dani Shapiro feels like a friend. There's still mystery, but I have a semblance of who she is.
In addition to the affinity I feel for Dani, I also adored her writing: "I was born and bred to fear the worst. And I know the worst either happens or it doesn't. Worry is not a form of protection. So who's the fool?" Dani isn't afraid to question herself, her assumptions and her beliefs, and she acknowledges the irregularities in her thinking without being self-deprecating or placing too much emphasis on them. Especially when dealing with matters of faith, we must acknowledge the importance of emotional connection as well as intellectual input.
Dani made me laugh, which is impressive in a memoir that could easily veer into the dreary: "I wasn't sure I would ever be someone contemplative enough to consider my relationship to flowers." She always takes the topic seriously, but she also constantly tries to relax, ponder and mellow.
Although I wanted to read this memoir to see how she dealt with lapsed faith, I found myself most drawn to her life as a mother and a parent. To my (childless) eyes, Dani has a lovely perspective on parenting and individualism. Her son is a huge part of her story, but it's still her story, and it's a fascinating one. There may not be a beginning, middle or end to Dani's journey, but I sure enjoyed reading about parts of it in a beautiful sequence worthy of the gifted novelist she so clearly is.
Favorite passage: "The questioning was the true work of engagement."
The verdict: I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I spent reading this thoughtful, lyrical memoir.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Length: 243 pages
Publication date: January 26, 2010 (it's in paperback now)
Source: Publisher, via TLC Book Tours (the entire tour schedule is here)
Book clubs, take note: Dani is available (and enthusiastic) to Skype with your book club.
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