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Book Review: Twelve Stones: Notes On a Miraculous Journey by Barbara Carole

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Ovid called stones “The bones of Mother Earth.” Throughout history stones have served a variety of uses. Small stones made weapons. Larger stones were used to execute people. Stones functioned as measures of weight, to cover wells, as doors upon tombs, as landmarks, as altars, as memorials, and as building blocks.

In the Bible, Joshua ben-Nun, Moses’ generalissimo and successor, erected a memorial of stone to God. Composed of twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, the monument commemorated the miraculous parting of the Red Sea.

Barbara Carole has erected her own memorial to God. She wrote a memoir. It is made up of twelve chapters. Each chapter is analogous to one of Joshua’s stones. “I pile my stones one upon the other to remember and to honor what God had done for me, how he took a mess and made something of beautiful of it.”

Twelve Stones is the story of a Jewish girl who eventually converts to Christianity. ‘Eventually’ is the operative word. And it’s inside that word – the adverb ‘eventually’ – that the story swooshes, spins, and curls. For Carole’s life encompassed teenage pregnancy and abortion, an imploded marriage, life in Paris, and working with the famous adventurer Jacques Cousteau. Yet through, under, over and around it all, something or someone slowly guided Carole’s life toward an ultimate goal.

God was that someone. As Carole explains, “To tell how, with His exquisite sense of irony, He brought me, in my fortieth year, to something truly different: He brought me to helplessness.”

Helplessness – the state of being totally and completely dependent on someone else. The setting aside of self.

The ‘how’ of Carole’s journey to the point of helplessness makes for an intense, interesting read. Carole relates her story in the first person singular, which is as it should be. For it is a very personal story. But from a literary standpoint, the pronoun ‘I’ can be difficult to employ. Because it’s limiting. What the other people in the story are thinking and feeling has to be conveyed by means of action and dialogue. Therefore it demands a sure hand and the imposition of commanding style. The sure hand is necessary to ensure that the commanding style doesn’t become cloying or sappy. Fortunately, Carole has both. Her talent enables her to pull it off without descending into the morass of self-pity or the sticky goo of Bible-thumping exhortation. She tells, in simple, eloquent language, her story and the story of the people in her life.

Well-paced, the story unfolds like a movie, moving from scene to scene. Each vignette provides a glimpse into a facet of Carole’s enlightenment process. Together the glimpses form a look. The looks become episodes. And the episodes comprise the narrative – the narrative of one woman’s life.

Thus it’s safe to say Twelve Stones is a truly literary memoir in the grand tradition of such memoirs. For a memoir is a report of what happened based on special information, information that can only be supplied by someone who participated in the events being recorded. And it’s the ‘special information’ – and the manner in which it is presented – that infuses any memoir with uniqueness.

Twelve Stones is the unique, distinctive, and remarkable story of one woman’s pilgrimage to faith. And the miracles – both small and large – that got her there.
Twelve Stones is highly recommended.

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