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Through the Narrow Gate

Karen Armstrong gives an account of her experiences as a Roman Catholic nun. She describes her childhood, her progress at school and her admission into the order of St Ignatius in 1962 and - via Oxford University and an English literature degree - out of it again seven years later. She depicts a brutal and medieval convent system prior to reform by the Second Vatican Council, where postulates had to erase their sense of self in order to be worthy as a bride of Christ. To achieve this, the sisters were forbidden to have friendships, were prohibited from speaking for 22 hours a day, had to undergo self-denunciation sessions in front of the other members of the convent, use scourges to dampen sexual desires and endure clothing, food and accommodation virtually unchanged since the dark ages. What began as Armstrong's desire for discipline and self-mastery rapidly became an assault on every aspect of her individuality. Exhausted by guilt, frustrations and loneliness, she slid first into anorexia and then into complete mental and physical collapse. Finally she obtained a place at Oxford University, and her reintegration into the world began.
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About the Author

Karen Armstrong was born in Worcestershire. After becoming a nun in the 1960s, she left her order and lectured in literature at London University before becoming a full time writer, broadcaster and international adviser on religious and political affairs. She has addressed US Congress, the UN and Canadian parliament on Islam and fundamentalism. Among her other books is the bestselling 'History of God'.


* `This articulate and sensitive writer spares no punches in her account of the agonising fight to find herself under the weight of rules and expectations, lies and aggression... Through the Narrow Gate is written as racily and as emotionally as a novel... the picture of convent life is vivid and terrifying.' Good Housekeeping. * `Painful and honest... Karen Armstrong's simple account of her struggles - both in pursuit of that self-death that the true religious craves and, later, against her unconscious rejection of life in an ultra-strict Order - says a great deal about destructive trends in modern life... A very moving book.' Daily Telegraph * `Seldom has a story of personal inspiration and tragedy radiated such warmth, freshness and candour... As beautifully recounted as it is heart-rending.' Irish Press * The strength of this unself-pitying chronicle is the author's capacity to convey the overwhelming attraction of the life she sought, even as she documents its shattering effect on the human personality... A scrupulous record of one woman's spiritual journey, excellently written and profoundly moving.' Cosmopolitan

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