Sunday, June 29, 2008

THE SCENT OF GOD, by Beryl Singleton Bissell

Book Review by Aaron Paul Lazar

THE SCENT OF GOD by Beryl Singleton Bissell is a work of fine art, reminiscent of a painting by Rubens or a haunting Saint-Saƫns melody. The beautifully crafted memoir offers words that glisten like gems on each page. Lush imagery, redolent with heady scents and vibrant color, transports the reader to locales ranging from the sanctified to the exotic. Readers will savor every chapter of this alluring tale.

The story begins in 1947 in Saddle River, New Jersey. Beryl, one of four siblings in a Catholic family, catalogs her mortal sins at an early age and is riddled with guilt when her mother serves meat on Friday or the family misses Mass. Her father’s binges and the rage and panic his drinking elicits in her mother, cause Beryl to seek comfort in nature. With her siblings, she happily tramps through the lakeside woods - swimming, fishing, tobogganing, and exploring abandoned farmhouses. In sixth grade, Beryl begins attending a private boarding school run by Catholic nuns who teach her about a God of unconditional love. This knowledge calms and thrills the young girl, who longs for stability and acceptance.

When Beryl is thirteen, her father’s drinking causes him to lose his position as vice-president of a New York bank, but he is offered an alternate position in Puerto Rico. When the family relocates to the tropical island, Beryl draws inward, avoiding friends and life outside the home. Beryl’s sister’s popularity and her mother’s critical harping about her weight increase her sense of displacement. Witnessing the drowning of a young boy, however, brings her face to face with her own mortality and the superficiality of earthly success. This new knowledge, in combination with a mystical experience of God’s love and the breakup with her “first love” -- a handsome young Puerto Rican boy -- set her on a course toward a life of commitment to God whose love is eternal and unchanging.

At the age of eighteen, and in spite of her parent’s initial disapproval, Beryl enters the Monastery of Saint Clare in Bordentown, New Jersey. With visions of becoming a saint, she thrives on the simple goodness of the daily processes in the cloistered nunnery, enjoying working in the bakery, her daily prayers, and the quiet camaraderie of her sister nuns. Her experiences in the monastery are lovingly and honestly recounted, providing a rare glimpse into this life.

Twelve years later, Beryl is deeply ensconced in the tranquility of the monastery when she receives the news that her father has taken ill, and that she needs to return home to assist her mother with his care. Returning to the island reawakens her senses.

“I woke that morning to the sound of waves crashing on the beach below, the pink and gold of the rising sun playing across my face. Despite my father’s condition and my mother’s frailty, I felt a wild surge of happiness. Eight floors below my window, a receding wave shimmered back toward an oncoming breaker, leaving a froth of bubbles to mark the edges of its ride. A solitary man jogged along the beach, the wet sand forming silvery halos around his footprints.”

In the course of caring for her father, and in the most delectable and surprising twist of this true story, Beryl meets Padre Vittorio, a handsome Italian priest who preaches at the local church of Saint Jorge. At first irritated by the man, Beryl slowly finds herself falling in love as she gets to know him better, igniting the most painful yet wondrous struggle of her life.

It would spoil the story to reveal more. Suffice it to say that the segment of the book involving Vittorio is sensual and captivating, never offensive, and completely addictive. Be forewarned that The Scent of God will lodge in your heart and invade your dreams for years to come.

Thankfully, the author is working on a sequel to THE SCENT OF GOD . This reader anxiously awaits the next chapter in Beryl’s delightful true-life saga.

* * *

Author: Beryl Singleton Bissell

Publisher: Counterpoint, a member of the Perseus Books Group
Publisher's Address: 387 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016-8810

ISBN-13: 978-1-58243-361-5 Price: $15.00

Publisher phone number and/or website address:

* * *


Joylene Nowell Butler said...


You've enticed me to buy the book. It sounds wonderful, tender, & I'm betting a tear-jerker. Thanks for not giving away too much. It's such a disappointment when that happens. Instead you've masterfully given me just enough of a tease to hook good.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Joylene! Just got back from vacation and am trying to catch up. Glad you liked the review - you won't be disappointed, I guarantee it. ;o)