Cover image for The divine economy of salvation
The divine economy of salvation
Uppal, Priscila.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, [2002]

Physical Description:
403 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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When Sister Angela receives an anonymous package containing an ornate silver candlestick, an object she hasn't seen in twenty-five years, her safe and secure life begins to shatter. Suddenly, she must confront her darkest secret: her participation in a crime from which she can no longer hide. As she sets about discovering who sent her the package, memories of St. X. School for Girls come back to haunt her.

At the center is a group of girls who call themselves The Sisterhood, from whom fourteen-year-old Angela desperately seeks comfort and approval. Saddened by her mother's declining health and her father's abandonment, Angela looks up to the group's beautiful and alluring leader, Rachel. When she is encouraged by Rachel to play a joke on another student, the rituals of The Sisterhood take a violent turn. Now, from within the safe refuge of her convent and with the unexpected help of a young pregnant girl, Angela at last faces the truth-and the boundaries of faith.

In the tradition of The Secret History and Lying Awake , The Divine Economy of Salvation is a dark, powerful, and suspenseful story that captures the innocence and cruelty of adolescence and the mysteries of adulthood.

Author Notes

Priscila Uppal was born in Ottawa, Canada on October 30, 1974. She was a poet, novelist, and playwright. She wrote collections of poetry, two novels, and a short story collection. Her collections of poetry included How to Draw Blood from a Stone, Confessions of a Fertility Expert, Pretending to Die, Ontological Necessities, Sabotage, and On Second Thought. Her novels included The Divine Economy of Salvation and To Whom It May Concern. Her plays included 6 Essential Questions and What Linda Said. She taught literature and creative writing at York University in Toronto. She died after a long battle with synovial sarcoma on September 5, 2018 at the age of 43.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

"There is nothing concrete separating my past and my present. My guilt spills over like water." When Sister Angela receives an anonymous silver candlestick in the mail, her quiet life in a Canadian convent shatters. As she waits for the sender to step forward, she returns to the shameful memories of a girlhood act of unspeakable violence. In this impressive debut, Uppal alternates between Angela's increasingly unstable present and her past at a Catholic girls' school. The source of Angela's guilt reveals itself at a leisurely pace that may frustrate some readers, although the truth, when it comes, is abrupt and shocking. And there are a few characters--a pregnant teenager and a guilt-ridden sister--whose relevance to the story is subtle and occasionally contrived. But Uppal's language is elegant and lyrical, her imagery lavish and startling. And she captures the loneliness, fear, jealousy, and brutality of female adolescence, even while asking bold, unsettling questions about family secrets and betrayals, faith, shame, and reconciling the past. --Gillian Engberg

Publisher's Weekly Review

A nun is haunted by the lurid death of a former classmate in this overwrought debut novel that's equal parts mystery and coming-of-age story. When Sister Angela receives a seemingly innocuous package containing a silver candlestick, it jolts her into a series of guilty flashbacks to her teenage days at St. X. School for Girls, a fancy Catholic boarding school in Ottawa, where she insinuated herself into a powerful clique of sex-obsessed girls called the Sisterhood. Events spun out of control when they invited a diligent classmate, Bella, to join their group on the condition that she lose her virginity. Bella's attempts to do so led to her grisly death. Angela has been haunted by the tragedy ever since, and she takes the arrival of the candlestick as a sign that she must finally reckon with her role in Bella's death. The crucible of the Catholic girls' school is always rich material, but Angela's schoolmates (who include a pretty, rich popular girl, a mousy hanger-on and other familiar characters) are underdeveloped, which is especially disappointing given the amount of space Uppal devotes to Angela's school days. Indeed, the mystery of who sent the candlestick loses its urgency amid all of the detailed flashbacks, and Uppal's resolution is simply absurd (even Angela herself seems not to want to dwell on it). Those who can't get enough of back-stabbing schoolgirl yarns might make it to the end, but, with the exception of the gruesome scene on which it hinges, the novel is unmemorable. (Oct. 4) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Uppal's beautifully crafted first novel centers around Angela, a nun living in a small convent in Ottawa. While piety and devotion to Catholicism are assumed to propel her, Angela knows that her vocational choice has more to do with guilt over wrongs she committed as an adolescent than with religious fervor. Now, as shame infuses her daily routines, she is forced to confront her history and honestly assess her role in the death of a peer nearly three decades earlier. Uppal's evocation of girl-cliques and the power they wield in differentiating outcast from in-crowd is realistically drawn and painful to revisit. Likewise, her rendering of puerile jealousies and the subtle ways that class differences tear at group cohesion is brilliantly presented. Although the book's conclusion is a bit less developed than the body of the text, this a stand-out debut and a wise, resonant, and unsettling look at female violence and the nature of family, faith, friendship, and repentance. Highly recommended for all libraries. - Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



My name was Angela H. then. You may remember me. We went to school together at St. X. School for Girls. I had long brown hair, cut at the waist in a single straight swipe, and I used to wear a tiny silver chain with a faux-gold locket in the shape of a heart, a picture of my mother inside. We knew each other. We all did. By name or by deed. Or at least I thought so at the time. I've had plenty of time here, plenty of time to think about the past and what we did know, or thought we knew, about what we, what I, have done. The air is thick as the stone walls with memories, with ghosts of us. I do not think it sacrilegious to speak so about ghosts. Jesus Christ is a ghost, the Holy Spirit is a ghost, the Bible tells us. I imagine God too, omnipresent and without form, is a ghost haunting my night. A wind in this darkness. I have food and water, a bed and paper. This is all I need. You may remember a few of the girls began a group, The Sisterhood, and we snuck out of our dormitory rooms to meet. You and I, we were invited to join. We met in the dark of the hallway, our movements anxious, almost animal, feeling our way to Room 313, Rachel's room, the girl with the shoulder-length blonde curls and light-green eyes, the one we wanted so to impress, the one we believed was the strongest. I can still smell the sweet perspiration, girls' clean preadolescent sweat. It is different from the sweat here, a grown woman's sweat we try to hide by doing the wash early in the morning after pacing in our rooms, restless, alone. The hard sweat of layers of clothing, the heavy habits if we choose to wear them, the blankets we pile on top of our bodies to keep us covered at night. Or the cold, blank sweat of the nightmares many of us have. Before I moved in here, I never would have thought so many nightmares should fill a place of God. Prince of Peace. But I guess we did know. We lived one of our own at St. X. School for Girls. Our sheets were washed then too. The stains of sin, Sister Marguerite would have said, her large chest pounding like a needle on a sewing machine. No one ever found out what happened in Room 313. That's the part that disturbs me most in the middle of the night in this tiny basement room, a single window the height and width of one of the bricks at ground level. I watch feet go by, have come to identify the different boarders and visitors by the kinds of shoes or boots they wear. By the noises they make treading on the grounds. How our footsteps changed. No one confessed, you know. The crosses that hung over blackboards and bulletin boards in the classrooms and the adjoining church were oblivious to our crime, and the nuns only punished us for the ordinary sins of daily living, the banal trespasses of girlhood. No one confessed, until now. If you choose to remain hidden, I will not expose you. But I must confess. It's time. Don't turn away. We held hands once in the dark. You may remember me. Excerpted from The Divine Economy of Salvation by Priscila Uppal All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.