2. Lying Awake

by Mark Salzman

This one is about a cloistered nun who after 20 years of quiet, uneventful waiting (for God's presence) begins to experience episodes of overwhelming rapture. When the episodes first occur she finds herself suffering from migraines that eventually bring here to a state of peace and clarity. As time goes on the migraines get worse but they lead to truly transcendent experiences where all is left behind, including the self, nothing left but an extraordinary clarity. There she finds God. It is truly a gift to be able to leave the world, commune with the creator, sustainer and redeemer of life, and come back to hang out with the nuns. Pretty cool spot to be in.

During this time, she also discovers that she is a gifted writer. She's been writing volumes and the words keep coming.

Turns out she's developed a mild form of epilepsy caused by a small growth on her brain. It will grow and she will get worse/better, depending on your persective on her new-found gifts. A rountine surgery (w/90% success rate) would correct the problem and eliminate the seisures/raptures. This poses a dilemma for her: should she get the surgery? If these seisures are truly a gift from God, should she put an end to them? If the growth is going to continue to tax her fellow nuns and eventually kill her, should she put an end to them?

The novel explores some deep questions of faith and spirituality, some of which are universal.

Overall, I found it fairly boring, but how does a writer make life in a cloister otherwise? Salzman explores the inner life of his protagonist in great detail, but tends to avoid description of her rapturous, transcendent states, which is what I was most interested in reading about. For that reason it fell short of my expectations.

1. The Kite Runner

by Khaled Hosseini

Here is why I chose the book:

"A wonderful work... This is one of those unforgettable stories that stay with you for years. All the great themes of literature and of life are the fabric of this extraordinary novel: love, honor, guilt, fear redemption...It is so powerful that for a long time everything I read after seemed bland." -Isabel Allende

That strong endorsement from a trusted writer and the need to know what a "kite runner" is led me to take a chance on a NYT best seller. I don't usually reach for best sellers. Generally they sell because they don't disturb, because they affirm or way of life, because they allow readers to believe what they already believe. In other words, they are popular for all the reasons not to spend hours on something.

But this novel rocked my foundation. It moved me deeply. I read in awe, in fear, in sorrow and a sort of desperate hope. A fierce work of literature about huge mistakes, the danger of damnation, the difficulty of redemption.

The novel begins with an old man calling the 30-something Afghan refugee protagonist from half way across the world and saying, "There's a way to be good again" and imploring him to come to Pakistan.

Here's what Hosseini says of his protagonist in the San Fran Chronicle:
"He went back to Afghanistan, then ruled by the Taliban, to settle an old score. He went back after a 20-year absence to atone for a sin he had committed as a boy. He went back to... rescue himself from damnation. The journey almost cost him his life. The thing is, I was the one who sent him. It was easy.”

Hosseini is an Afghan refugee living in San Fran today. He's a doctor. And an extraordinary writer. Kind of makes me think of Checkov.