"An Unquenchable Thirst" is the DoubleX Book of the Week

What Women Really Think
Dec. 2 2011 1:01 PM

DoubleX Book of the Week: An Unquenchable Thirst


If I had a personal list of the best books of 2011, An Unquenchable Thirst would be on it. Mary Johnson's memoir of her time with Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity has everything a memoir needs: an inside look at a way of life that most of us will never see, a physical and emotional journey, and suspense of an unusual kind--the reader knows from the beginning that Johnson will leave the "MCs." The real question is what among the various sacrifices, indignities, and disillusionments of life within the order will push her over the edge.

Mary Johnson spent 20 years as "Sister Donata" and rose within the ranks of Mother Theresa's missionaries, working directly with Mother Theresa and with those who now run the order. She describes the calling that took her, at 19, to the Bronx to work with Mother Theresa after seeing her on the cover of Time, and she bluntly narrates the struggles that follow: her confusion over how much sacrifice one's God should demand, her eventual regret for the physical pleasures that she left behind, and her gradual realization that moral certainty can conceal a mighty thirst for power behind a veil of sanctitude, but only for so long.


An Unquenchable Thirst is much more than a single Catholic journey, and it's far from a book only for current or former Catholics. Johnson's is a spiritual journey much starker and more enthralling than most. It's a courageous and often dark book—the author is unsparing in her descriptions of her own failings and those of the women (and occasionally men) around her. It's a sensual book that vividly depicts the temptations of a life that is not only celibate, but lived as though any unnecessary physical contact was both sinful and suspect. And in its harsh examination of what it means to want to dedicate a life to service, only to realize that the image you held of that life rings hollow after decades, An Unquenchable Thirst is an incredible coming of age story. No interest in theology necessary.

KJ Dell'Antonia is a writer living in New Hampshire. She writes the EcoLiving column for Kiwi magazine and is the co-author ofReading With Babies, Toddlers and Twos: Choosing, Reading and Loving Books Together.



The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

Naomi Klein Is Wrong

Multinational corporations are doing more than governments to halt climate change.

The Strange History of Wives Gazing at Their Husbands in Political Ads


See Me

Transparent is the fall’s only great new show.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand
  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful.
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 30 2014 11:42 AM Listen to Our September Music Roundup Hot tracks from a cooler month, exclusively for Slate Plus members.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 12:42 PM How to Save Broken Mayonnaise
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 11:55 AM The Justice Department Is Cracking Down on Sales of Spyware Used in Stalking
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.