A review of
At the Damascus Gate
by Elana Greenfield
With the possible exception of St. Augustine, the most famous conversion story in the history of Christianity is that of Saul of Tarsus. Saul, an overzealous rabbi, asks to visit Damascus in order to round up Christian converts and bring them to Jerusalem. Jesus appears to Saul and asks, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” Blinded for three days by the vision, Saul converts, eventually changes his name to Paul, and spends the rest of his life as the thirteenth apostle, talking up Christianity to everyone he meets. Taken as metaphor, Saul’s transformation suggests the necessity of becoming blind to the material world in order to “see” the spiritual path.
Reading Elana Greenfield’s collection of genre-blurring stories, At the Damascus Gate: Short Hallucinations—a book that evokes Kafka, Calvino, and Schnitzler among others—requires a similar leap of faith. The book’s consciousness exists in the regions between three binaries: alive/dead; awake/asleep; native/foreign, and it is necessary to transcend notions of conventional narrative in order to dwell in the book’s possibilities. When a soldier’s heart is reincarnated as a parachute (in Greenfield’s story “The Soldier’s Dream”) as he visits a narcoleptic spirit guide who leads him to the children he may or may not have fathered, it’s easier to accept in the way that a dream allows for ruptures in narrative as if they were logical occurrences.
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