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Damascus Gate

3.4  ·  Rating Details ·  815 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
In his earlier novels, Robert Stone has taken us to such hot spots as Vietnam, Central America, and that ultimate sinkhole of depravity we call Hollywood. This time around, it's Jerusalem. Given Stone's gift for depicting both political and personal embroilment--indeed, for making the two inextricable--this particular city is an inspired choice. For starters, Jerusalem rem ...more
Published (first published May 14th 1998)
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Joel
Jan 04, 2013 Joel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A novel of uncommon ambition and density. It's odd to see this labeled as a thriller. It's not, even though it does have elements of one. Those narrative elements are functional enough, but not the main attraction. The story is internal, not external.

Stone is interested in the headspace of his flawed characters as they seek enlightenment, tip over into religious mania, crash head-on with reality. Sections of the novel have a hallucinatory intensity. It's all beautifully done, giving insight into
...more
Diane
Dec 07, 2014 Diane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The seeds of an excellent thriller are contained in this book. The author, however falls into several book-killing traps. In writing this story about the Middle East, he begins by describing each setting as if he were writing a descriptive travelogue- type book and knocks the reader over with so much detail, the heart of the story is immediately obscured. Then he bogs the reader down in esoteric religious myths, writings and tropes which are far too particular to add to the story he's attempting ...more
Perry Whitford
May 13, 2012 Perry Whitford rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone intrigued by Jerusalem.
An intelligent and informative look at the different peoples and factions struggling for ascendancy in Israel, centered around the ancient, holy places of Jerusalem and set in the time of the intifada of the early 1990s, as two half-Jewish American settlers find themselves embroiled in some End of Days shenanigans.

Chris Lucas, a religiously interested yet cynical reporter straight out of "Greeneland", researches a book on the Jerusalem Syndrome. Sonia Barnes, singer, aid worker and daughter of
...more
Chris
Feb 27, 2015 Chris rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The story had a lot of potential, but was ultimately disappointing. The plot moved slowly, although there were some great scenes. Ultimately, I did not find the characters the least bit sympathetic or compelling. So as a reader you're left following a somewhat meandering plot involving characters you don't care about. Stone's descriptions of Jersusalem, Israel, and Gaza were great, however. The action in the strip was page-turning. As someone who has travelled to the Middle East and North Africa ...more
Meg
Jan 11, 2009 Meg marked it as unfinished  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-general
I picked this up for a dollar at a used bookstore, and really wanted to read it, but it just didn't hold my attention. Maybe I'll try again another time.
Nicole
Oct 01, 2007 Nicole rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book. In the end, I have to say that I liked it. I felt like I could really feel the tensions amongst the many different groups in Israel and Palestinian terratories, and the utter confusion that is/was Jerusalem (book takes place in 1992). And, most importantly, the book did keep my interest (although there were certainly boring segments). The author is very wordy; sometimes he states thoughts so perfectly, I feel like I've never read anything so clea ...more
Anne Hawn Smith
I have to say I am a bit ambivalent about this audiobook. I picked it to try to understand about the daily conditions in this area of the world and the book helped in that respect. It is hard to imagine how people go about the daily business of life in an area filled with such conflict and animosity. All sides have their problems and have adapted to the powder keg they live on. On the other hand, the deep cynicism was a little hard to take and at times I felt like I was listening to a dream rath ...more
Padraic
Meh.

I bought and sold and bought and sold and bought this book, each time thinking I would read it. Great promises of chills, thrills, and apocalyptic whoopee, like a politically correct Leon Uris novel.

You know the line from Casablanca? ("The problems of two little people don't amount to a hill of beans...")? Not only does the book spend acres of pages trying to refute that very point ("No, seriously -- their problems amount to a whole Temple Mount's worth of beans.") - but Stone actually quot
...more
Diane
May 30, 2011 Diane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had not heard of Robert Stone until I read "Prime Green" his memoir of the sixties. Then I read the epic "Outerbridge Reach" and was hooked.
The setting is the Holy Land, Easter Week, at the end of the 20th century. Never mind that it is difficult, there is no glossary, the characters have multiple names so you get confused...at least the hero
Chris Lucas (who I liked very much) only had one.
In the end it all becomes clear; brilliant!
Timothy Smith
Nov 12, 2013 Timothy Smith rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Very disappointing book. All the characters were stereotypes. The Palestinians are pretty much all running around shouting 'Kill the Jews' and the Israelis are all treated sympathetically. Not a real sense of place and nothing to be gained by reading it. A very old school perspective on a conflict and region far more complex and compelling than this book portrays.
Christopher
Jul 01, 2012 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition


As close as I would usually get to a traditional thriller. Highly recommended for those who, like myself, are always fascinated by the enigma of God(s) and worship and faith. An excellent snapshot of a paranoid time in the cradle of Monotheism, that has moments of near prophecy. Stone is a writer whose soul has known struggle.
Joan Cobb
I think this book was much more popular when it first came out than it would be now. I found the main character totally flat and unconvincing. The tons of support characters and themes went on too long for me. Bottom line--Israel is a complicated place and both politics and religion create a flammable mix...as if we didn't know!
John Lauricella
May 24, 2013 John Lauricella rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in realistic, contemporary wisdom-fiction
Damascus Gate is an unusual great novel because the constellation of characters who variously serve as its protagonists are comparatively uncompelling individual actors. The desultory freelance journalist Christopher Lucas; the half-Jewish, half-black, Communist true-believer and jazz singer Sonia Barnes; Raziel the polymath musician, former Yeshiva-boy genius, former Jew for Jesus; even the inspired and psychologically troubled Adam De Kuff whose Messianic vision drives some of the most interes ...more
Patrick
The book talks about the chaotic nature of Jerusalem and the use of religion as a divisive component to that chaos. The chaos is representd in this passage from the book, " It was hard to tell who anyone was and what they wanted because the emergency basis on which the state proceeded created constant improvisations and impersonations. Organs that were not in fact of the state represented themselves as being so. State organs pretended to be non-state, or anti-state, or the organs of other states ...more
Charles Vella
I wasn't sure how to rate this book. I ran into it by accident when I read that Robert Stone had died. I'd never heard of Mr. Stone, but the obituary talked about his work and made me very interested. In particular, it said he'd written a thriller set in the Middle East, Damascus Gate, which I was very anxious to read. According to the reviews, which were very good, the last hundred pages in particular were so gripping you couldn't put it down. Robert Stone's work had been nominated for a number ...more
Steve
Jul 19, 2013 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I found Damascus Gate a rich and rewarding read. It probes the inner life and turmoil of a disparate group of seekers who find themselves living in Jerusalem in the early 1990s. Mostly the characters come from the United States and Europe, and mostly they reflect Jewish, Christian or "other" sensibilities.

In Damascus Gate, you find highly permeable lines between different religious, cult, messianic identities, just as you find highly permeable lines between the Jewish and Palestinian sections of
...more
Judie
Jul 20, 2015 Judie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I probably wouldn't have finished this book but I'm fascinated by Israel, Palestine, the tensions and religious factions there. Since I've visited Israel, I could picture many parts of this book. I found when the characters were in geographic areas I've never visited (like the Gaza Strip!), my attention wandered which is certainly not a good sign for a reader who has never been to Israel.
Good authors show us their characters -- they don't just tell us about them. Robert Stone certainly didn't "t
...more
Thomas Kiernan
This author is one of my favourites of contemporary American writing. I'm not sure where his genre would be, literary fiction probably, but there is enough action and humor in this book to keep any reader going. Set mostly in Jerusalem sometime in the recent past, we have the main protagonist, Chris Lucas making his way among a disparate collection of modern crusaders who in their diverse ways are all intent on saving the Holy City. A psychiatric hospital is also visited where a collection of ch ...more
Elizabeth
Oct 12, 2008 Elizabeth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one, really, it's just too tedious - maybe someone really into Middle Eastern life
Recommended to Elizabeth by: the clearance section at Half Price Books
There is some literary and cultural merit to this book which bloats from the spine and frequently offends with the author's esoteric bravado. This book would be a great bookclub book because certainly everyone would be able to relate to at least one of the thousands of bits of mystical/political/historical/religious/musical/archeological and on - details that develop and follow the plot like those uncomely eels that swim with sharks.

The ending is a colossal, albeit realistic let down. Personall
...more
Michael Norwitz
I have been a fan of Robert Stone's for some time, although I have not read a new book for him for years. This is one of his standard tales of espionage and paranoia. I found the degree of research he did into Jewish spirituality enthralling (unless he made it up), and the novel creates a very deep sense of place for the old section of Jerusalem (unless he made it up). And yet, although there was enough to keep me reading, I never entered into any of the characters' minds at all, or had a deep s ...more
Chris Wharton
A potent mix—Jews, Christians, Muslims, Americans, Europeans, Israelis, Arabs— of creeds, cults, and crazies set in the intifada-ridden Palestinian territories and the Holy Quarters of old Jerusalem in the 1990s. Quite complicated with many characters—among them seasoned spooks; government, military, and paramilitary enforcers; UN and NGO types; fundamentalists of all faiths; journalists, scholars, and resident professionals; New Age stoners, self-proclaimed messiahs, and other lunatic fringe dw ...more
Hollin
Aug 15, 2013 Hollin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Terrific book.

Not at all what I thought the book would be.

At first I thought it would be a good summer read - a solid espionage book set in Israel.

so much more.

it does the le carre/literary thing of talking around things. the 'plot' becomes background - a vehicle for the 'story' that chris(main character) is writing.

only afterwards do you realize that the main character is "you". (usually, and unfortunately this happens early on in a novel)

the only thing about this book is that it stressed me ou
...more
Will Byrnes
An intense novel that portrays politics in Jerusalem. In this tale, extremists of both the Christian and Jewish persuasion are involved in a plot to destroy the Temple of the Mount. The main character is an American writer. Colorful local and international characters abound. Sonia is an NGO type, looking to do the right thing throughout the world. A rabbid American fundamentalist young man thinks he has found the Messiah and tries to establish him. Plots whirl within plots and it is tough to fig ...more
Tracy Staton
Sep 12, 2007 Tracy Staton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book did more to enlighten me about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than hundreds of news stories did. After reading it, I had the (highly unoriginal) thought that fiction can be more true than fact. It's not a quick read, or an always enjoyable one; it drags in places, and sometimes, if you're like me, you'll want to throttle the journalist character for being utterly thick. But if you want to get to know characters who are living through the scenes you see on the news -- or if you want t ...more
Jeansue Libkind
Jul 09, 2008 Jeansue Libkind rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chris Lucas, American half-Jewish reporter in Jerusalem, agrees to do a book on the pilgrims to the Holy City who become overly inspired. Beyond the characters with Messianic dreams, there is an assortment of misfits, NGO and U.N. workers, former Communists, archeologists, settlers, nightclub impresarios, drug/arms runners and relief worker wannabes. Stone plots a tight scheme for the coming Millennium and corners the reader in a Bermuda Triangle of intifada, religious zealotry and psyche. I cou ...more
Evelyn
Mar 06, 2011 Evelyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting enough premise, but one walks away feeling that everyone in this book is either evil, crazy, extraordinarily passive, or just plain stupid and gullible. Perhaps that was the author's intent, but this makes it hard to like any of the characters, or even sympathize with them for the duration. At first it seemed as though the author had done a good job of painting Jerusalem as it looks and must feel to the many extreme religious factions that inhabit and claim to own the city. By the en ...more
Kevin
Aug 23, 2009 Kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stone's Dog Soldiers, about the dark side of the hippie movement, is one of my favorite books. And although Damascus Gate falls well short of that novel's power, it's still a helluva read. It's a literary thriller set in pre-millennial Jerusalem, and is about the impact of place and religion on the psyche. Despite that its 500 pages are often densely packed with obscure religious and historical references, it nevertheless possess a swift and powerful narrative velocity, which is owed primarily t ...more
Gary Misch
Dec 16, 2015 Gary Misch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would call this a low key thriller. An American reporter is collaborating on a book about religious extremism in Israel. He finds himself involved with people whose radical leanings include assistance to both Palestinian and settler factions in Gaza, as well as a conspiracy to destroy Muslim holy places on the Temple Mount, in an effort to build the Third Temple. The slower pace than most "thrillers" makes it believable. The local Israeli color is very accurate. It is an excellent read.
Richard Toscan
Nov 13, 2013 Richard Toscan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating take on Millennial Christians and their attempted impact on Israel, though here they're ultimately manipulated by intelligence mercenaries working for internal Israeli political ends. In many ways, the novel is an examination of kinds of religious and spiritual belief seen through the prism primarily of the old city of Jerusalem with forays into the Palestinian territories, but told through the framework of a thriller.
Jash Comstock
This book held my attention well. He does a great job of showing the Palestinian/ Israeli tensions of that area. It wasn't an amazing novel, in my own opinion, but wasn't a waste of time either. The characters are pretty well written, the thriller aspect is suspenseful, and the setting is well described.
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ROBERT STONE was the author of seven novels: A Hall of Mirrors, Dog Soldiers (winner of the National Book Award), A Flag for Sunrise, Children of Light, Outerbridge Reach, Damascus Gate, and Bay of Souls. His story collection, Bear and His Daughter, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and his memoir, Prime Green, was published in 2006.
His work was typically characterized by psychological compl
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“Like many visitors, they had been unnerved by the inimitable creepiness of the Holy Sepulchre, a grimly gaudy, theopathical Turkish bathhouse where their childhood saints glared like demented spooks from every moldering wall.” 4 likes
“There were icons of the Magdalen on the walls and paintings in the Western manner, all kitsch, trash. Mary M., Lucas thought, half hypnotized by the chanting in the room beside him; Mary Moe, Jane Doe, the girl from Migdal in Galilee turned hooker in the big city. The original whore with the heart of gold. Used to be a nice Jewish girl, and the next thing you know, she's fucking the buckos of the Tenth Legion Fratensis, fucking the pilgrims who'd made their sacrifice at the Temple and were ready to party, the odd priest and Levite on the sly.

"Maybe she was smart and funny. Certainly always on the lookout for the right guy to take her out of the life. Like a lot of whores, she tended towards religion. So along comes Jesus Christ, Mr. Right with a Vengeance, Mr. All Right Now! Fixes on her his hot, crazy eyes and she's all, Anything, I'll do anything. I'll wash your feet with my hair. You don't even have to fuck me.”
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