Through the Narrow Gate

Through the Narrow Gate : A Nun's Story

4.07 (1,458 ratings by Goodreads)
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Through the Narrow Gate is Karen Armstrong's memoir of life inside a Catholic convent in the 1960's. With gentleness and honesty, Armstrong takes her readers on a revelatory journey that begins with her decision, at the age of seventeen, to devote her life to God as a nun. yet once she embarked upon her spiritual training, she encountered a frightening and oppressive world, fossilized by tradition, which moulded, isolated and pushed her to the limit of what she could more

Product details

  • Paperback | 304 pages
  • 130 x 196 x 22mm | 200g
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • Flamingo
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 6pp b&w halftones
  • 0006550541
  • 9780006550549
  • 106,106

Review quote

* 'This articulate and sensitive writer spares no punches in her account of the agonising fight to find herself under the weight of rules and expectations, lies and aggression... Through the Narrow Gate is written as racily and as emotionally as a novel... the picture of convent life is vivid and terrifying.' Good Housekeeping. * 'Painful and honest... Karen Armstrong's simple account of her struggles - both in pursuit of that self-death that the true religious craves and, later, against her unconscious rejection of life in an ultra-strict Order - says a great deal about destructive trends in modern life... A very moving book.' Daily Telegraph * 'Seldom has a story of personal inspiration and tragedy radiated such warmth, freshness and candour... As beautifully recounted as it is heart-rending.' Irish Press * The strength of this unself-pitying chronicle is the author's capacity to convey the overwhelming attraction of the life she sought, even as she documents its shattering effect on the human personality... A scrupulous record of one woman's spiritual journey, excellently written and profoundly moving.' Cosmopolitanshow more

Review Text

An emotive, spiritually intimate, and often quite moving memoir by an English woman who entered an austere Catholic Order in 1962 before the sweeping changes initiated by Vatican II - and a tribute to sister nuns, kind or cruel, who "were striving for a superhuman ideal and not surprisingly made mistakes." At 17, Karen, daughter of loving middle-class parents, was a sensitive, unsophisticated loner, unhappy with her appearance and a bit frightened of a world of men-and-women. Charmed by the serenity and intelligence of her school's headmistress, Mother Katherine, and against the wishes of her parents, Karen entered the Order as a postulant. The early months at the convent offered some disagreeable but challenging surprises: medieval underwear, laundry soap for the weekly bath, and, worst, the rule of strict silence except for two hours a day. Sometimes "it all seemed so contrived and unreal, like performing in a play." But the two-year novitiate began the severest test, especially in living the Word: "I would grind myself to a powder if by doing so I could accomplish God's will." Karen, now Sister Martha, engaged in a bitter battle with Self as a novice, after her final vows, and as a Scholastic preparing to teach. Then, the tortured, insuppressible demands of mind and body brought about a final crisis. Desiring so much the selfless life, Sister Martha attempted to draw spiritual growth from meaningless tasks, anachronistic punishments (even self-flagellation), a racking, "Karen"-crushing self-analysis. Some of her superiors, clinging to archaic rules like a "guard rail in a swimming pool," seem unnaturally cruel - forcing food upon often-nauseated Sister Martha, insisting her fainting and dizzy spells were due to "pride." The last breakdown came during her studies at Oxford, when intellectual thrust and integrity warred openly with "blind obedience"; in 1969, Karen received permission to leave and break her vows. "I rarely felt at peace," she grieves, "but at another level I was happy. . . . Religious life is about love and love is about risk. Perhaps none of us risked enough." Despite the gripping, widely-appealing details of convent life, an essentially religious confession - written with affection, some humor, and a bittersweet regret. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong was born in Worcestershire. After becoming a nun in the 1960s, she left her order and lectured in literature at London University before becoming a full time writer, broadcaster and international adviser on religious and political affairs. She has addressed US Congress, the UN and Canadian parliament on Islam and fundamentalism. Among her other books is the bestselling 'History of God'.show more

Rating details

1,458 ratings
4.07 out of 5 stars
5 36% (526)
4 41% (595)
3 19% (273)
2 3% (48)
1 1% (16)
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