(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The title Damascus Gate refers to an ancient stone city gate, connecting Jewish and Muslim sectors of Jerusalem near sacred sites hotly contested by three faiths. That Jerusalem has incited religious and ethnic hatreds for centuries makes it the perfect setting for a millennium religious thriller in which ancient spiritual strictures, promises, and passions are reconfigured through explosive New Age sensibilities. While eruditely exploring the religious foundations of major religions, sects, and cults both modern and historical, Stone builds his story around a genuine 1980’s plot to destroy the Mosque of Omar.

The novel also revisits in new ways the themes that have always driven Stone’s art: religious mysticism, the drug culture and counterculturalists, competing apocalyptic visions (the products of senility, hallucinogenics, and wishful thinking), and ethnic and religious hatreds exposed and carried to bloody ends as individuals seeking meaning beyond their petty fiascoes steer, almost suicidially, toward shared disaster.

Stone’s key characters are mainly displaced Americans with private visions of the Holy Land. Foremost is freelance journalist Christopher Lucas, whose Jewish father and Catholic mother have prompted both skepticism and faith and thus have indirectly led him to his latest book project, a study of the Jerusalem Syndrome—an Israeli psychiatrist’s term for a form of religious mania afflicting Jewish and Christian visitors to the city, a messianic longing for epiphany often expressed through intolerant missions, for example, to destroy sites sacred to opposition faiths.

Like Lucas’s fictional book, Damascus Gate studies religious moderates transformed into extreme fanatics in Jerusalem. Lucas’s search for controversial materials and his interviews with assorted locals provide the justification for a convoluted journey that twists and turns throughout the city and is sidetracked to Tel Aviv, the Gaza Strip, the Jordan River, and Mount Hebron before returning through labyrinthine streets to the Temple Mount (at the Dome of the Rock) and a conspiracy to bomb the Muslim Al-aksa Mosque there as a step toward invoking the Second Coming and the conversion of the...

(The entire section is 913 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Damascus Gate, based on Robert Stone’s own religious quest, is set in Jerusalem, perhaps the most religious of the world’s cities. Extended research in the Yale University Divinity School library and seven prolonged visits to Jerusalem gave Stone the expertise in the Middle East that he needed to write the book. His participation in the early 1960’s California drug culture acquainted him with addictive personalities, insights that served him well in developing such characters as Raziel Melcher and Adam DeKuff.

The fervor of various religious cults and the hotbed of diverse political sects in Israel in the early 1990’s that Stone portrays may prove confusing for the average reader early in the book. Ostensibly, the novel is the saga of reporter Christopher Lucas, reared Catholic and Jewish but lately agnostic, who is in search not only of a news scoop in connection with his job but also of a personal faith with which he can live. He is collaborating on a book about the “Jerusalem Syndrome,” a peculiarly modern psychological disorder incurred by outsiders of any religious persuasion who believe that they have been appointed by God to come to the Holy City to accomplish a divine purpose. Various cults, messiahs, and Marys thus populate Jerusalem, adding to the chaos and frenzy of the scene.

Chris Lucas is also searching for love. Although he thinks about a former lover from time to time and has an affair with a British journalist at the end of the book, he has long carried a torch for Nuala Rice, an Irish smuggler of drugs and weapons. Lucas and Nuala have several friendly encounters...

(The entire section is 665 words.)