This novel about life in a Carmelite monastery outside of Los Angeles is stern, spare and moving. It follows the life of poetry-writing Sister John, who learns that her visions of divine grace may come from epileptic seizures. Epileptics are barred from joining cloisters, since their intimations of divinity turn out to be simple by-products of the illness. For Sister John, whose experience of Christ through her recent seizures--many years after becoming a nun and waiting years for His presence--learning of the illness calls her entire spiritual life into question.

Salzman's writing is precise and simple, as befits his topic, and the book accomplishes the difficult task of making the decision to become a cloistered nun in the modern world sensible. Its best scenes are those inside the monastery, showing the interactions between the sisters. Who would imagine, for example, that nuns might squabble over high-fiber cereal and how to rearrange things in the refrigerator to make room for three cartons of juice? Graceful and ultimately wrenching, Salzman's book deals in a lovely, thought-provoking way with the conundrum of faith in the modern world--and on a deeper level, with the absolute mystery of belief at any point in time.

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