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The Independent Critic

 Book Review: Devout by Anna Gazmarian 
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We've come to expect a certain sense of drama when it comes to memoirs centered around mental health, a sort of chaos meets crisis narrative arc.

Yet, as I was winding down my time with Anna Gazmarian's "Devout: A Memoir of Doubt," I was truck by a sense of almost eerie calm.

It was unusual, really. It was surprising. To be honest, it was a little jarring. It wasn't that Gazmarian hadn't invited me into her world, especially her world of the past 10-12 years after she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Type 2, in 2011. She had. She writes with honesty and vulnerability throughout "Devout."

I have read quite a few memoirs dealing around aspects of faith and mental health, a fact partly owing to my own background and partly owing to having lost my wife to suicide. In most cases, these memoirs may be beautifully written but I often find that they center themselves around an almost cosmetic view of faith or, alternately, the trauma and drama of the mental health diagnosis.

Both are valuable. Both are necessary.

Yet, with "Devout" I am struck by how centered it is around Anna herself. There's a difference and it feels profound. It feels as if "Devout" lays the groundwork for how one should write about mental health and faith, disability and faith, trauma and faith and so on.

While there's certainly trauma here and certainly drama here, "Devout" finds its narrative power through the lens of Anna's constant searching for her own life's meaning, for human connection, and for how to reconcile her faith with a mental health diagnosis she was raised being told was an affliction of the spirit.

As a paraplegic/double amputee with spina bifida (and a very recent two-time cancer survivor), I resonated deeply with Anna's struggle to balance her deep faith, which is evident throughout, and a diagnosis that doesn't look or feel like the pretty pictures we're sold about what a life of faith will look like.

I have been told more times than I can count that my various afflictions are the result of a lack of faith, a spiritual affliction, or I have had people shake their heads at me because I refuse to simply gloss over it all because, well, Jesus. You know?

Somehow, Gazmarian paints a beautiful portrait of her faith journey yet an equally honest and beautiful portrait of her journey toward learning to live faithfully with a mental health diagnosis. She shares the struggles with those who don't understand, the joys of experiencing those who do, the poignancy of finding meaningful relationships, and the power of leaning into your dreams despite the uncertainty of them all.

I so often finish books like "Doubt" with a sense of melancholy. With "Devout," I experienced the author's highs and lows but also her constant sense of wonder, hope, perseverance, and faith. In fact, I'd dare say that as the final pages arrived I was immersed in an absolutely remarkable sense of faith.

The real power of "Devout" sneaks up on you. It's in the days that follow reading "Devout" that you begin to realize how much it has crept into your heart and into your mind. "Devout" may be a memoir of doubt, but it is most certainly an affirmation of love and hope and faith and the glorious imperfections that connect us all.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic