DAMASCUS GATE by Robert Stone
Kirkus Star


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Stone’s inordinately ambitious sixth novel, which in several surface ways resembles his A Flag for Sunrise (1981), grapples with intractable issues of political and religious faith, compromise, and betrayal. Set in the early 1990s in a meticulously rendered Jerusalem, it explores the tangled relationships among a number of settlers and visitors to the Holy City who become involved in one or both of two diametrically opposed “missions”: a plan, spearheaded by “a Christian study group,” the House of the Galilean, to rebuild the Temple of Herod (thereby enticing the Messiah to reappear); and a bombing plot, undertaken by zealots from several “camps,” “to destroy the enemy shrines on the Temple Mount.” The fulcrum on which these contrasting actions pivot is focal character Christopher Lucas, an independent journalist, nonpracticing Catholic and half-Jewish, whose compulsive search for something to believe in leads him to an assignment investigating “Jerusalem Syndrome” (a clinically recognized species of religious mania), and to complicated relations with several other achingly conflicted fellow travelers. Among them: jazz singer Sonia Barnes (“biracial, the child of old lefties”), a devotee of Sufi mysticism; American-Jewish musician, drug addict, and visionary Raziel Melker (a fascinating compound of destructive and healing tendencies); and Adam De Kuff, a wealthy drifter whose immersion in Kabbalistic wisdom turns him into what many accept as a messianic prophet. These, and a dozen or so other superbly realized characters, combine in a series of dramatic actions that demonstrate the truth lodged in Lucas’s dangerously exfoliating investigations: “To liberate into the world the ultimate goodness of God and man, it was necessary to walk deep into the labyrinth.” Only Stone’s tendency to overexplain unfamiliar religious concepts occasionally relaxes this big novel’s powerful grip on the reader; and even in its most discursive passages, the intensity of its characters’ emotions maintains high interest and irresistibly mounting suspense. Stone’s boldest and, arguably, best novel is this year’s Mason & Dixon or Underworld. Not to be missed.

Pub Date: May 14th, 1998
ISBN: 0-395-66569-8
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1998


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