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The Scent of God
A Memoir
by Beryl Singleton Bissell

When her family moves to Puerto Rico in the early 1950s, thirteen-year-old Beryl Bissell finds herself in a milieu heady with sexuality and passion. Uncomfortable in her developing body and yearning for unconditional love, she becomes convinced that only God can satisfy her longing. On the day following her eighteenth birthday, she enters a cloistered community of nuns in New Jersey, believing that God has called her to this way of life. At first, she is blissfully happy. Within the year, however, she has become anorexic and prey to other obsessive compulsions. Her vocation at risk, she overcomes these disorders and perseveres for another 10 years until she must return home to Puerto Rico to help care for her ailing father. Thrust once more into this erotic environment, she discovers that religious garb cannot protect her from her budding sexuality. She is drawn to Padre Vittorio, a handsome Italian priest, and undergoes a belated coming of age. For the next three years, as she travels to and from the island, she struggles to reconcile human desire with spiritual longing. Unable to confide in either her mother or her abbess, she tries to find the inner freedom that would allow her to love fully. The events that follow take the reader on a dizzying journey into the heart of desire, both spiritual and human. In spare but lyric language, Bissell weaves a powerful story of love, death, guilt, and redemption—a pilgrimage that reaches beyond dogma to personal truth and evokes a transformation that changes not only Beryl but the lives of those whom she most loves. This is the new and revised edition of The Scent of God, originally published in hardcover by Counterpoint Press NY 2006 and in paper 2007.

“A terrifying, passionate, and exalted examination of what it means to love with you whole heart.” —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, and she writes about spiritual matters with a marvelous clarity of vision." —The Washington Post “Bissell's humility and blatant honesty are refreshing, invigorating, and inspirational. Recommended for all libraries.” —Library Journal “The Scent of God is an ode to passion both spiritual and sensual. “[The] story of a woman who twice gave up everything for love — first for God, then for a man.” —The Minneapolis Star Tribune “The strength of Ms. Bissell’s memoir lies in the unflinching examination of her motives for entering and leaving religious life… A compelling and soulful read.” —National Catholic Reporter “Accounts of genuine spiritual anguish and unspeakable loss." —Kirkus “Though Catholic school survivors will find this book especially fascinating, everyone can identify with the uncertainties Bissell faces -- the ones that make us all human, whatever our order in life.” —Bust

Beryl Singleton Bissell photo

Beryl Singleton Bissell, was born in New Jersey, grew up in Puerto Rico, and spent fifteen years living as a cloistered nun in New Jersey. A columnist for ten years with the Cook County News Herald, her work has appeared in literary publications and anthologies nationwide. The Minneapolis Star Tribune named her a 2006 Best Minnesota Writer for The Scent of God and 2011 Best Regional Book for her second book, A View of the Lake. In 2011 she received an Arrowhead Regional Arts Grant and a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant in 2000. She lives with her husband Bill in St. Paul, MN.


Beryl Singleton Bissell

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