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Devotion: A Memoir [Hardcover]

Dani Shapiro
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 245 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (26 Jan 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061628344
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061628344
  • Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 14.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 885,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't believe all the hype 25 Jan 2014
I bought this as I'd read about it on Oprah's website as a recommended read. The title - clever as it is - simply doesn't chime with the contents or narrative. It's more about the author's relationship with her mother and family members - actual religious devotion (and her desire to - admirably in my opinion - find a healthy relationship with her Jewish faith) comes further down her list of priorities. It's such a great subject area, for those who enter their mid-lives, but it's not well-executed. I enjoy her writing though and would perhaps give one of her other books a read, just to see if it was indeed this one that was just a little off. A brave attempt at a weighty subject area - but one that left me wanting.
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82 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Silence, Peace, Contemplation 30 Jan 2010
By TC - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I started this book a little skeptical. It seems recently, i have read memoirs of many different people and in the end, they were much the same and often pretty shallow for my liking. I sat with my highlighter and post it stickies and marked the first thing i found interesting on page 15. Not too bad. Then, the next on 54, then 86. Hmm, I was becoming more skeptical--86 pages and "only" 3 significant things to me.

I say "only" because how do you really judge--what if there was only 1 thing--and yet that thing was life changing. Or maybe not life changing, but allowed you to see things in a new light--is that worth $25.00 and a few hours of my time? Yes, usually--and I guess I want more--I didn't want just 3 things in 86 pages. I wanted soul stirring. I wanted awakening. I wanted to be moved.

And I got what I wanted. I quickly started underlining and marking more things. The book seemed to get deeper and deeper and took me right along with it--which I happily went. I am ready for change. I am ready for shifts. I am ready to face things I have avoided. And Dani Shapiro helped me do that. Grappling with those hard questions---somehow writing things I have wondered about or considered for years--and didn't fully articulate to myself.

This book is a gift to me. A gift to my soul. As I read it, it became meditative and sort of a contradiction in that it stirred up so many emotions, so many longings, so many questions, and at the same time delivered me to a place of peace and silence and contemplation and stillness.

I had not known any of the writings of this author prior to reading this book. I didn't even know she was an author until I read it in the book. I received this book through the Amazon Vine program. Perhaps because she has authored so many other things, it helped her articulate her search for meaning in a touching way. I suspect, however, that it also has a lot to do with her own discoveries she made along the way.

Truly an inspirational book, written in a way that is easy to follow and engage, raw with emotion at times, ripe with yearning.

In addition to her own struggles, woven throughout the book are many quotes and stories from "leaders" or "teachers" or whatever the label. She uses those quotes and stories to delve further into her own exploration. And what I found is that her perspectives and comments surrounding the quotes and stories gave me greater insight into their meaning and into the meaning of my life. I felt that adding that touch of wisdom from those who have gone before really added a depth to this book that I found lacking in many other of the recent memoirs I have read.

I highly recommend this book if you are doing your own soul searching. I also highly recommend it for book clubs as there is so many different topics and angles that could be discussed--it would make for a very enriching meeting.

Highly, Highly recommend. And thank you Dani Shapiro.
36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Full of contemplation and thoughtfulness, all of it written with a skilled writer's balance of tension and ease 8 Feb 2010
By Bookreporter - Published on
At first blush, Orthodox Judaism, Hindu yoga and Buddhist meditation have little in common. But all three use ritual as a way to order time and space and to explore one's connection to the sacred. In her new memoir, DEVOTION, Dani Shapiro reflects on the role of ritual and religion in her life as she comes to terms with parenthood, middle age, the loss of her own parents and life's anxieties, as well as its potential for peace.

Raised as an Orthodox Jew (whose relatives fell mostly to the "black hat" end of the spectrum), Shapiro felt that little tied her to the Judaism of her youth. She was drawn instead to yoga and meditation, and the myths and rituals of Alcoholics Anonymous. But in her early 40s, watching her son grow up and still mourning the loss of her parents years earlier, she began to drift back toward the familiar rites of Judaism.

For Shapiro, these rituals and chants, prayers and observances are not about religion per se; she is not overly interested in membership or even the notion of God. What she is seeking is a solace and comfort in the midst of uncertainties of day-to-day life, and she hopes to find some in acts of devotion. She refuses to simply accept the rituals and instead examines them for meaning and for how they may fit in her own life. She surrounds herself with teachers who explain that though the answers may not be out there, asking the questions is an important spiritual practice as well.

Shapiro's memoir is especially poignant and insightful as she navigates the tricky waters between religion and spirituality. She identifies as a Jew, but her relationship to Judaism generally and to her own family in particular is fraught with doubt, frustration and disbelief. She practices rituals of both Hinduism and Buddhism but is not actually a practitioner of either of those faiths. She joins Jewish congregations and speaks with rabbis but has difficulty reconciling the observances before her and the ones of her youth. Tangled up in her childhood religious memories are the figures of her devout but possibly depressed father and her angry and narcissistic mother. As she struggles with faith and religious practice, she also struggles with her parents and their beliefs.

DEVOTION is a slow and quiet memoir; its short chapters read like little essays or even meditations laced together, sometimes quite loosely. There is not a lot of resolution but plenty of candor, emotion and beauty. Shapiro's anxiety is palatable as she writes about the things that worry and scare her and about the uncertainties that plague her. Her attempts to find peace and practice devotion are heartfelt and earnest, and though the book is far from fast-paced, it is compelling and sometimes even dramatic.

DEVOTION already is being compared to Elizabeth Gilbert's EAT, PRAY, LOVE, but Shapiro's record of her spiritual journey is much more subtle and, in many ways, much more universal. The writing here is as delicate and striking as the subject matter. Though many things happen to Shapiro, not much occurs in the book. In other words, unlike many memoirs that are full of action and conflict, DEVOTION is full of contemplation and thoughtfulness, all of it written with a skilled writer's balance of tension and ease.

--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman
81 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most self-discovery books by white, privileged women are shallow as glass; this one digs into real issues 26 Jan 2010
By Jesse Kornbluth - Published on
When we meet Elizabeth Gilbert on the first page of Eat, Pray, Love, it's three in the morning, and she's on the bathroom floor of her country house, sobbing. And not for any obvious reason. Career, marriage, health --- she's got it all.

When we meet Dani Shapiro on the first page of Devotion, she's been "waking up in a cold sweat nearly every night, my heart pounding. I paced my house, worried about ...well, about everything."

Like some of you, I am sick to death of the marketing of Elizabeth Gilbert. And, like many of you, I often find myself waking up in the middle of the night, terrified for my child, our country, our planet. So after a page of Dani Shapiro's book, I don't think you can fault my lack of sympathy for this happily married mother with seven books to her credit.

Okay, lady, I think, what's your problem?

Dani Shapiro reveals her issue as a story.

She's doing "Master Level Energy Work" with a woman named Sandra when Sandra asks, "Are you feeling...pushed?"

Just so. "I often felt a sense of tremendous urgency, as if there was a whip at my back. I was fleeing something --- but what?"

"It's your father," Sandra says. "Your father apologizes."

What's happening here defies everything Dani believes, "but I had entered a place beyond belief."

So Dani tells Sandra about her father, who died when she was young: "Everything I am --- everything I've become since that day --- is because of him. Because I had to make his death mean something."

"Your father is asking if you want him to stay," Sandra says.

"Yes," Dani says, weeping. And, so, on page four, was I, because Dani's situation is very close to that of a woman I know well, and suddenly I could see exactly where this memoir was headed, and that my reading of it would be painful, but at the end, I would find "Devotion" to be the one book that anyone over, say, 35, needs to read right now.

I met Dani Shapiro once. She was so blonde I assumed she had been born Dani Wasp and had married a man named Shapiro. Not so. Her father was an old school Orthodox Jew. Her mother, however, was "a brilliant atheist." The mix canceled religion out for Dani: "I had reached the middle of my life and knew less than I ever had before."

Nothing was the matter --- but she often felt "on the verge of tears." She felt her life speeding by, "mired in domesticity," and she wanted to slow it down and find some meaning. She had a glimpse of how that might feel by doing yoga, but those classes merely scratched the surface. She needed a deeper dive.

My antennae go up again. Oh, I think, this is the philosophical version of The Happiness Project. And, again, I come to see I'm wrong; this is a writer's book, artfully constructed. Shapiro doesn't hit the reader over the head with the fact that her son was born with a condition that kills 85% of its victims. Or that her mother was an unhappy, competitive bitch who basically hated her. Or how her post 9/11 move from Brooklyn to rural Connecticut has brought some calm, but at a high price: the recognition of "a deep well of loneliness."

Daily life is one practice. Work with teachers --- a Buddhist, a rabbi, yoga instructors --- is another. The effect of the two as they blend? Shapiro is pushed back into the memory of her family and its traditions, she's freshly curious about Judaism.

I am a lapsed Jew. I fought her here. But I could not deny that her teachers were very wise. (I also know this from personal experience. A decade ago, I had lunch with one of her guides, Sylvia Bornstein, when she was on tour promoting her new book. Ten minutes in, she said, "Something is going on with you," and for the next hour, she held my heart in her hand as I told her about my cratering marriage and seemingly inevitable divorce.) And I couldn't disagree with her conclusion about middle age: "Midlife was a bitch, and my educated guess was that it only got steeper from here."

It may not seem like much to you --- especially if a handy therapist has convinced you that your unhappiness is a "problem" and medicated you against it --- but Dani Shapiro comes to accept that sadness is an integral part of life. She gets that we will lose everything we love. She grasps that "there is value in simply standing there whether the sun is shining, or the wind whipping all around."

Yeah, but does she find an answer? Does her life have meaning? Is there something an intelligent person can believe?

I could tell you the answers she finds. But I promise you: they won't mean much to you unless you read her 243 pages, and live her struggle with her, and --- because how can you not? --- see your own at the same time.
58 of 68 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Skip this book! 26 July 2010
By Artemisia - Published on
I have never written a book review before, but I was so disappointed with this superficial drivel, that I felt compelled to warn people off. Ms. Shapiro bounces between the most shallow aspects, it seems, of Judaism, Buddhism, and Hatha Yoga. It's as though at one point someone told her she could write, and that she was very VERY important. She seems to be neither insightful, charitable, mature, or even interesting. Her version of Buddhism seems to only include the New Age ideas of "May I be safe, may I be pleased, may I have life unfold smoothly, may I be healthy". This is what the great Buddha's enlightenment meant? Judaism seems to comprise a few rituals and amulets, that she misses. Hatha Yoga is accompanied by a rock music tape her screenwriter husband has made.

I have also rarely encountered such a materialistic writer in a spiritual genre. Just what does she even mean by the title "Devotion"? To what, Dani Shapiro?

She doesn't just have lunch with her guru, she does so at a window table in the Time Warner building. She doesn't just live in Brooklyn, she resides in a 4-story Federal townhouse. She doesn't just read a book, she becomes best friends with the author (Steve Cope). She can't just buy a mezuzah, she gets a very expensive one on her vacation in Venice. Her son is not just endangered with bad health as an infant, he has one of the rarest diseases ever recorded (IS).

She makes sure to tell us her Conneticut house has a long (1/4 mile) driveway. She can't just dine with a childhood friend. He's a famous (but unnamed) actor. Her mother doesn't just leave clothing behind, she leaves Gucci and Armani in custom-built white shelves. Her mother also leaves behind valuable antiques that she, poor thing, has to dispose of. She doesn't mention until the very end, that her mother. "the brilliant atheist" (Is there any other kind?) has a degree in psychology and had her own practice (very admirable). This is after she has denigrated the poor woman for seeing the therapist, Penny Russianoff (another name-drop) of Unmarried Woman fame. And transcribes private session tapes, so we can see just how awful her mother is.

She also makes sure to tell us of her 6 professional sessions with her and her mother and a Park Avenue (of course) psychiatrist. He later tells her "there is no hope for you and your mother". She clearly thinks this must be her mother's fault, as if to justify her seeming hatred of this woman who she barely talks to. I think perhaps he meant Dani (is the problem). So self-absorbed.

She also mentions attending AA for many years in her early twenties but now "no longer needs it". This certainly gave me pause. Was she just slumming in AA? Or in denial now?

I can not believe this book was even published, let alone positively reviewed. It is the self-aggrandizing, slight, and shallow meanderings of a privileged and ungrateful woman. She is the living embodiment of the stereotype of the New Age seeker, who gains no awakening of any kind, but thinks wisdom is hers to dispense. She must have a few friends in the publishing industry.
35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "I need to place my faith in something." 26 Jan 2010
By E. Bukowsky - Published on
In "Devotion," Dani Shapiro describes her quest to come to terms with the traditional Judaism of her father, her late mother's legacy of bitterness and anger, her fear that her only son might be damaged by his early battle with a seizure disorder, and her inability to relax and enjoy the present, unfettered by neurotic worrying. She was deeply traumatized at the age of twenty-three when her father, who was only sixty-four, collapsed and died while driving his car. Shapiro attends yoga classes, practices meditation, and explores her thoughts and emotions in depth. There is a New Age feel to her activities. She signs up for "Master Level Energy Work," during which a woman named Sandra acts as a conduit between Dani and her dead father. Shapiro also dabbles in Reform Judaism (at one point, she dons her father's prayer shawl and phylacteries), and consults advisors who impart wisdom that she tries to incorporate into her daily life.

Dani and her family live in rural Connecticut, and she admits that her son, Jacob, is only peripherally aware of his Jewish identity. Shapiro, who is in her forties, wrote this book to describe her existential crisis: "Something was very wrong, but I didn't know what it was. All I knew was that I felt terribly anxious and unsteady. Doomed." Although she claims that she was not clinically depressed, she says, "It seemed that there had to be more than this hodgepodge of the everyday." Dani suffered from free-floating anxiety and dread, in spite of the fact that she had a loving husband, a healthy son, and a fulfilling career as a novelist and teacher.

Although Shapiro comes across as thoughtful and sincere, "Devotion" is a disjointed and repetitious memoir, in which the author recounts her meandering journey towards a more meaningful existence. She admits that she cherry-picked ("the smorgasbord approach"), choosing a little bit of this and a little bit of that to form a workable belief system. While in Venice, she purchased a mezuzah, prayed when the mood struck her, and spent three days at a yoga and meditation center called Kripalu and another three days at the Garrison Institute (a former monastery), where she was guided by Sylvia Boorstein, a Buddhist.

It is interesting to note that Shapiro has some distinguished relatives. Her father's younger sister, Shirley, was married for sixty-six years to Moses Feuerstein, who served as president of the Orthodox Union. His brother, Aaron Feuerstein, was the owner of Malden Mills in Massachusetts. When his factory burned down in 1995, Mr. Feuerstein used his insurance money to rebuild the business and in the interim, he paid his employees' salaries with full benefits for six months. We all can draw inspiration from these two lives--those of Moses and Aaron Feuerstein. Performing acts of loving kindness for others and perpetuating a long-standing tradition of ethics and good works can imbue anyone's years on earth with great significance.

On the other hand, too much focus on oneself can create a void that is difficult to fill. Ms. Boorstein said, "Everyone is struggling.....You have to go forward. And we all die in the end. So how to deal with it?" The answer is, of course, different for everyone. Some enter psychotherapy, others become deeply religious, and there are those who concentrate on their professions and/or families. Another approach may be to offer one's services to any number of worthy causes or institutions. "Devotion" conveys the message that looking inward, with the help of compassionate and nurturing mentors, may serve as a path to inner peace.
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