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The Scent of God: A Memoir

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  326 Ratings  ·  80 Reviews
A true story of spiritual and human desire is revealed through the forbidden love between Beryl Bissell, a New Jersey nun who entered the convent at age eighteen with the belief that God had called her to his way of life, and a handsome Italian priest, Padre Vittorio, who would become her secret love.
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 14th 2006 by Counterpoint (first published 2006)
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Community Reviews

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Addicted to Books

5 – I teared up and cried numerous times – stars. I experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. This book crept up on me and enveloped me.

I don’t even know where to start. Before I even start saying anything, I would like to say this is not a book about religion or God or anything preachy. It is not a racy book about a nun and priest getting it on. It is very far from that. It is a beautifully crafted book about a courageous woman who lays bare all her flaws and insecurities to close scrutiny.

Jun 30, 2007 Catherine rated it it was amazing
The author spent fifteen years as a nun with the Poor Claires. When she was summoned back to her parents' home in Puerto Rico to help care for her ailing father she met Padre Vittorio. The author eloquently discussed her conflict of leaving her cloistered life and beginning the next chapter of her life at around 30 in the outside world, where she had the freedom to make her own decisions. She carefully took her reader through her long and developing relationship with Vittorio. Through many seren ...more
Dec 19, 2007 Bethany rated it liked it
Interesting journey of a woman who chooses service to the Catholic church, then falls in love with a priest. Must loving God and loving man be mutually exclusive?
May 18, 2015 Natalie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: All those who love life!
Recommended to Natalie by:
THE SCENT OF GOD is an inner retreat. I return to it again and again to breathe in the power of love!
Lacey Louwagie
Oct 01, 2008 Lacey Louwagie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: faith-seekers
Recommended to Lacey by: Talking Volumes on NPR
Shelves: memoir
Although this book took a while to get going for me, by the halfway point I was completely hooked. This memoir does what the best of them do: it tells a story as compelling as anything you'll find in fiction, yet it rings true because the author is painfully honest in her own struggles and failings, so that you can believe in her triumphs. This book can be read on two levels, both of which resonated with me. On one level, you have a "forbidden love" story, the story of two people who fell in lov ...more
Jul 07, 2014 Homeschoolmama rated it it was amazing
I was surprised I liked this book so much. I was expecting it to be a typical anti-Catholic rant, and I was not looking forward to reading a tirade written by an ex-nun. But it was not like that at all. I found this memoir to be a very honest and reverent story, of a young girl who sought after God and wanted to live a religious life in a cloistered monastery. She lived her dream for a time but eventually left her group and married. The only part I found disappointing was that Ms Singleton Bisse ...more
Jul 22, 2008 Holly rated it really liked it
A beautifully written book. I got a glimpst of something completely foreign to me. I have never understood why a person would choose to become a nun/priest and live in a monstery. I never even thought of nuns as "real" people. This book helped me understand one womans journey into spiritual life and her conflict of when years later she falls in love and wants to leave the church. A compelling and interesting story spaning 40 years and taking place in the United States, Purto Rico, and Italy.
Oct 28, 2012 Cheryl rated it it was amazing
I'm still not sure what makes this book one of my favorite memoirs. It just is. There is something unique, wholesome and refreshing about it. Probably because you don't see love, religion and self-discovery used as concurrent angles too often. A nun falls in love with a priest and they both have to make a decision. The lyricism that outlines their dilemma, the forthrightness with which the narrator tells the story...all very appealing.
The Other Gaffron Girl
Sep 28, 2008 The Other Gaffron Girl rated it it was amazing
As a good little Catholic girl who grew up and explored the possibility of leaving the Church to become a Protestant, I did not have the experience of being immersed in my faith so deeply as to stand on the threshold of young womanhood and forfeit my future to center a cloistered nunnery. Kuddos to the author for providing insight into her decision to do so, as well as her decision to leave a decade later to marry a priest.
May 20, 2008 Renee rated it it was amazing
This extraordinary book tells the story of a young woman who enters a Cloistered Convent as a late teen, develops anorexia, and 15 years later on leave to care for her sick fathers, falls in love with an Italian priest. Bissell took me on a spiritual, dizzying and often raw journey where she bears her soul to all.
Nov 11, 2008 Theodora rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Lacey
this book is so gorgeous. a real testament to the connection of God and eros -- copulation with God and copulation with another. I was pulled in both by the forbidden love aspect/and withholding and Beryl's own relationship to God. I appreciate Beryl's honesty -- she admits her faults and flaws.
Jun 30, 2009 Dale rated it it was amazing
A truly moving book (I was sobbing at the end..) that I read in 2 days...while working, driving, eating, etc! What an incredible journey this book takes you on.....and the good news is the author is writing a sequel!
Steph Fisher
May 26, 2007 Steph Fisher rated it really liked it
This book was one of those gems that I stumbled upon just looking through the shelves at the library. I liked the cover and ended up loving this memoir. The author was a cloistered nun for many years and it is her story of falling in love, finding joy and sorrow and a true, beautiful faith.
Feb 16, 2008 Carrie rated it really liked it
I loved this book. I didn't have time to sit down and read it in one sitting which I think made the book even more captivating and allowed me the time to really enjoy this woman's life and where her path led her.
Dec 19, 2007 Kate rated it really liked it
The book is a true life story about a young girl who dedicates her life to God, choosing to live in a cloistered convent only to find out that God had different plans for her. A beautiful story - it made me cry on the airplane.
Aaron Lazar
Jul 25, 2008 Aaron Lazar rated it it was amazing
The Scent of God by Beryl Singleton Bissell is a work of fine art, reminiscent of a painting by Rubens or a haunting Saint-Sa
Nov 16, 2007 Jessie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone!
oh, this book is pure poetry. i have read it so many times, it is a joy to me to read of beryl's life and her choices and struggles, and her great, great love.
I am not a religious person, and even though this is about a cloistered nun, I greatly appreciated the story. This is an honest, moving memoir, and I highly recommend it! Quick easy, gripping read.
Aug 28, 2007 Lisa rated it it was amazing
This is my all-time favorite memoir. Beryl tells her life story without begging for sympathy. I will read it again and again.
Oct 31, 2007 Constance rated it it was amazing
This author has a truly remarkable story. She writes from the heart.
Oct 31, 2008 Mary rated it it was amazing
This book was beautifully written and told an amazing story. I loved it!!
Jan 15, 2017 Kari rated it it was amazing
One of the best memoirs I've read in a very long time. Honest, reflective and heartfelt. If you are interested in how to love God, family and others in your life you will be touched by Beryl's story.
Sep 30, 2014 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
This was a good autobiography about a young woman, Beryl, who enters the cloister right after high school when she joins the Poor Clares. Poor Clares live a life of prayer and stay in the cloister. They are called nuns. They do not go out to teach or nurse or perform other duties as do sisters, who live in convents. Beryl loves her life in the cloister and with the Poor Clares. After about 11 years as a Poor Clare her father, who lives in Puerto Rico, becomes very ill after a stroke. Beryl's sis ...more
Sonia Reppe
Jan 14, 2009 Sonia Reppe rated it really liked it
Well, I already thought Catholics were wack before I started this book. But this is no place to list all the things about the catholic church that I, as a protestant, disagree with. This isn't what the book is about either, although she does take some issure with the church later on. Beryl, the author gives us an example of self-destructive fanaticism and how it steered her life. As a teen she absorbed extreme and archaic views from Catholic school and books about saints, and wanted to "suffer" ...more
Sep 26, 2011 Suzyberry rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
I saved this book to read on my North Shore very glad I did. Beryl Bissell has written a book of such beautiful text and depth, I often had to remind myself that this was HER life and I was not reading fiction. What she has experienced in her lifetime is written out with immense emotion and honesty. I found myself being educated, then drawn emotionally into the changes she bravely faced as her life calling began to change. There is not a single emotion I did not feel as her words s ...more
Nov 23, 2009 Tania rated it it was amazing
A memoir written by a woman who experienced life as a cloistered nun and emerged to experience true love, motherhood, and all the joys and heartaches that go along with them, while remaining true to her faith in God, if not to the church. Beryl takes us on a fascinating journey through her life, revealing her innermost thoughts and fears and reflecting back with an honesty only available to most of us in hindsight. The reader is as surprised at many of her choices as Beryl herself was at the tim ...more
Christopher Roth
May 01, 2014 Christopher Roth rated it liked it
This memoir about the sexual and emotional awakening of a nun is not nearly as racy as the blurb and cover would lead one to expect, though she DOES get it on with a priest. On the whole, I was a bit wary at first because the tone of it was very uncritical of the church. In the end, though, Bissell seems to have her head screwed squarely on her shoulders when it comes to understanding and rejecting the insidiousness and illiberal facets of Catholic sexual morality, while still retaining Christia ...more
Carla Anderson
Apr 01, 2010 Carla Anderson rated it it was amazing
Beryl Singelton Bisell's memoir is beautiful and compelling. Beryl, as a young girl seeking the unconditional love of God, enters a convent at 18. She grows up in a family with three siblings, an alchoholic father(who was a good provider) and a beautiful mother who becomes crazed and enraged and desperate every time the father goes on a bender. You get the picture - it impacts Beryl greatly and she devotes her life to God and the love that a cloistered convent brings. She continues to seek love ...more
Apr 14, 2009 Beryl rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Recommends it for: everyone
"A riveting memoir of devout faith and forbidden love." -- Star Tribune Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors

"Impossible to put down. The extraordinary beauty of [Bissell's:] writing made me wish this book would never end." Ann Patchett, Bel Canto

"A deeply moving tale of a woman torn between her love for God and her love for one of his emissaries." -- Publishers Weekly

"Bissell seems to find inner joy even during life's most difficult trials . . . she writes about spiritual matters with a marvelous clar
Patricia Ibarra
Aug 18, 2016 Patricia Ibarra rated it really liked it
Beryl was not a very popular girl, she felt others were better than her and tended to be seclusive. One day she "felt the call" of God and decided to become a nun. She chose Saint Clare Monastery to live in utmost poverty like St. Francis of Assissi. She sought the most extreme conditions and tried to suffer to be closer to God. She decided to do it and pray to help humankind. Well, thank you very much! How much better would it be to help others with deeds, not with prayer. I felt angry to see h ...more
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The award-winning author of The Scent of God -- a Book Sense notable in April 2006 -- selected by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as a "Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors." Writes frequently for Lake Superior Magazine, was a columnist with the Cook County News Herald for 10 years, has been published in numerous publications in print and online, and in the anthologies Surviving Ophelia edited by Cheryl De ...more
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