Robert Stone: Damascus Gate (Audio Only)

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Originally broadcast from Chicago May 5, 1998.

Publisher’s Description: On the cusp of the millennium, Jerusalem has become a battleground in the race for redemption. American journalist Christopher Lucas is investigating religious fanatics when he discovers a plot to bomb the sacred Temple Mount. A violent confrontation in the Gaza Strip, a race through riot-filled streets, a cat-and-mouse game in an underground maze — as Lucas follows his leads, he uncovers an attempt to seize political advantage that reveals duplicity and depravity on all sides of Jerusalem’s sacred struggle. Ambitious, passionate, darkly comic, Damascus Gate is not only Robert Stone’s biggest and best novel to date, but a timely and brilliant story of belief, power, salvation, and apocalypse.

Publisher’s Weekly said: From its sublime triumphs to its noble failures, Stone’s first novel since Outerbridge Reach (1993) is a major work in every aspect, a sprawling, discordant prose symphony. In Jerusalem, which he depicts as a holy Bedlam, Stone finds the perfect setting for the spiritual agonies that have marked his most powerful writing. In that city, everyone suffers from the burden of faith, or lack of it, and everyone wants something, usually at any price. Expat American journalist Christopher Lucas wants a surer identity?born Christian and Jewish, he feels rooted to neither faith?as well as love and, of course, a good story. But his desire has limits, drawn by conscience, and so he serves well as the reader’s proxy, a normal man surrounded by seekers of the absolute. Around Lucas swirl addled saints, addicted sinners, con men, cruel members of Hamas and even crueler Israeli security forces. All the parties have their own agendas, most of which hinge on a conspiracy among extremist Israeli Jews and American Christians to blow up the Temple Mount and usher in Armageddon. Stone’s presentation of this narrative backbone can be mechanical and sometimes seems extraneous to the novel’s main theme of the wages of faith. More captivating is an ancillary plot involving a drug-blasted seeker’s attempts to elevate a manic-depressive Jew as a world savior; one of his pawns, Sonia Barnes, an American Sufi who’s also Lucas’s love interest, proves as compelling as any Stone heroine. Most extraordinary, though, is the author’s passionate etching of landscapes both physical and spiritual. The book opens slowly, with a diffuse if portentous ramble through the city, though the narrative intensifies through scenes of terror and moral gravity, particularly in a nightmare Gaza strip inflamed by riot, until Jerusalem and its people coalesce to iridescent indelibility. Bold and bracing, ambitious and inspired, Damascus Gate is, even for its flaws, an astonishment.

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