book review: Devotion by Dani Shapiro

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.

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!


  1. I like that this book has an unusual structure, and think that alone has me interested in it over some of the other memoirs out there. I am glad to hear that you enjoyed it and I think you did a wonderful job capturing the spirit of the book in your review!

  2. This sounds so very different from any other memoir I've read, and in a good way. I'm so happy that it resonated with you in some unexpected ways. Thank for being on the tour!

  3. I read Family History and liked her writing quite a bit. I think it's interesting that Devotion is her 2nd memoir. I wouldn't think that one would need to write more than one.

  4. I was blown away by this book and, like you, read this book in almost one sitting. It resonated with me on many levels.

  5. I love memoirs and this one sounds like a good one. I agree that they often tend to be quick reads so I think I need to pick this one up.

  6. I'm a big fan of memoirs and this book sounds like a great read, especially when you hear your blogging pals read it one day! Very promising.


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