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"A heartfelt, personal story of the gradual awakening of a woman who comes to see that preferring the 'human to the perfect' does not alienate her from authentic spirituality but allows her to live more fully."

Kathleen Norris,
author of The Cloister Walk


2014 New Hampshire Literary Awards Outstanding Book of Nonfiction:  Robert Atwan, Editor for The Best American Essays series, was the judge for the Nonfiction category. Presenting the award, he said: 

"An Unquenchable Thirst joins a great tradition of memoirs: it not only recounts the life story of an intriguing individual but it also offers readers an insider’s view of a largely inaccessible world. And like many outstanding memoirs it introduces us to iconic public figures from a more intimate perspective. Mother Teresa makes more than a cameo appearance; she shows up throughout the book and we see her not as a distant saintly being but as an energetic woman, constantly at work, often tired, hungry, impatient, and over-scheduled, increasingly combating age and illness while carrying out what appears to be her impossible mission.

All in all, this is a magnificent memoir about an essential human conflict: our spiritual need to surrender to a higher power and our equally sacred need to live an autonomous life."

Best Memoirs of 2011:  Kirkus Reviews named An Unquenchable Thirst to their list of Best Nonfiction of 2011. named An Unquenchable Thirst their Book of the Week in December, 2011:  "Johnson's is a spiritual journey much starker and more enthralling than incredible coming of age story. No interest in theology necessary."

“An Unquenchable Thirst is a candid, generous, and profound spiritual memoir by a woman who chose a life of service alongside one of the great religious icons of our time. Somehow, in the midst of this humbling, austere life of devotion, Mary Johnson found herself, even as her doubts about her faith grew.  Johnson's writing is always gentle yet honest, detailed yet compelling. This is a book that deserves a great deal of thoughtful discussion.” --Anne Rice

One of my heroes, Sister Joan Chittister, wrote "Mary Johnson’s An Unquenchable Thirst is deceptive. The temptation is to assume that it is the story of an American girl’s experience of an international religious community whose culture and history was quite unlike anything her own culture prepared her to understand. True, of course. But only partially. The fact is that this book is about the spiritual development of the entire church, each of us, after Vatican II. It is the journey of a faith in transition from a medieval to a modern world. It teaches us all a great deal about what it means to grow up spiritually." -- Sister Joan Chittister, OSB

Publication Industry Recommendations

"A remarkable, elegant spiritual memoir...[of] a bright, independent young woman who tries to adapt to a world of rules, painful regiments, and unobtainable righteousness... an extraordinarily revealing and intimate portrait." --Nancy Richey, from Library Journal 

"[Johnson's] fascinating memoir details her evolution from devoted disciple to distressed, exhausted nun, determined to leave her vocation and answer a calling to live in the wider world." --Ilene Cooper, starred review from Booklist, the American Library Association 

"Johnson’s portrayal of her time as a nun is likely to be controversial; her memoir is exceptional." --starred review from Kirkus Reviews

Print Reviews

"Incredibly, Johnson writes with a deep empathy for the women with whom she shared 20 years, as if by revealing to us their faults and their kindnesses, their failures and their triumphs, we too, might forgo judgement and accept them as simply human." --Beatriz Terrazas, from The Dallas Morning News

“A wonderful achievement….Johnson takes an unflinching look inside her own heart [and]….opens the window on a horizon of spiritual questions.”--from Christian Science Monitor

An Unquenchable Thirst is engaging, heartfelt and entertaining...[Johnson] articulates her struggles with her God in words that will hit home.”--Shari Roan, from LA Times

"Johnson's memoir is a page-turner....  She shares intimate aspects of the female experience and the terrors and joys that come with it. As for her faith journey, there is nothing easy about it. It is just as serious, questioning, doubting and struggling as Thomas Merton's." --Mike Pride, from The Concord Monitor

More Print Reviews

Online Reviews

"This is a story of longing—for both spiritual and physical intimacy. We feel keenly Sister Donata's loneliness and disillusionment, and we cheer her on in her quest for wholeness. . . Mary Johnson is an engaging heroine and storyteller—and she offers a great deal for book clubs to talk about." Molly Lundquist, on LitLovers

"[Mary] has written a memoir detailing a world about which most of us know little at the same time as she invites us into her journey to find both authenticity and peace." - Rain Taxi

"If I had a personal list of the best books of 2011, An Unquenchable  Thirst would be on it." 

"While I'm not generally a great reader of memoir, I practicially gorged myself on this book." --Kelly Davio, from Kelly Davio Blog

"This book is not a Catholic-bashing fest.  It is a respectfully honest and forthright memoir reflecting not only the experience of the author, but the experience of many others." --D Gregory Smith, from From Eternity To Here

"This is a fascinating story for Christians and atheists alike as it depicts the daily struggles in life in religious service."  --Black Cat Books

"The memoir draws us into Sister Donata’s complicated relationship with Mother Teresa, the nun who believed that all suffering is a gift from Jesus and whose inscrutable decisions were not always wise." --Leslie Greffenius, from Beyond the Margins

More Online Reviews

Reviews in Other Languages

French (after the Valentine's Day release of the French edition): Une quête infinie Mary Johnson

              and another, from April: La Passion de Dieu

             a nice piece by Cathy Garcia, ran on the Traversées blog and on La Cause Litteraire

              short reviews at Murmures and

Portuguese: O livro descreve a vida da Ordem da Madre Teresa por dentro e não poupa as críticas. 

Spanish: El Dragón de Hipatia

Russian:  Американка Мэри Джонсон (бывшая сестра Доната МС) недавно написала книгу «Неутолимая жажда» о своем 20-летнем пребывании в монастыре сестер Матери Терезы.

Interview with Darlene Chandler Bassett translated into Russian:  Любовь по правилам и без

Author Recommendations

"Faith has always baffled me. I've read stories about keeping faith, and simply never really got it, but Johnson has allowed me to get it. We see in this story the great thirst, the girl's romantic sense of the world, the attraction of a life with Jesus. We see ecstasy. And we meet such fragile and struggling women and men in the rhythms of a dedicated life over days and seasons and years, and the costs that life exacts. An Unquenchable Thirst is an extraordinary gift to readers, a moving, tender, searching and generous piece of writing. Love saturates this book." —Meredith Hall, author of Without a Map: A Memoir

"Mary Johnson's An Unquenchable Thirst is a joy to read. It is not often that great writing and sincere and deep spiritual quest are contained in one volume." —Darcey Steinke, author of Suicide Blonde and Easter Everywhere.

 "Mary Johnson writes with heartbreaking honesty, inviting us to share her innermost hopes, doubts, and longings. Johnson explores how hard it can be to do good in this world, to be true to oneself, and to chart a new path. And she beautifully balances a cultural connection to Catholicism with the need for a far less dogmatic world: a world where she can be free to question, change, love. Her work here and in the future should be considered must-read stuff for anyone who ever looked critically at their own religious tradition and asked, ‘why?'" —Greg M. Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, author of Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe

“A heartfelt, personal story of the gradual awakening of a person who comes to see that preferring ‘the human to the perfect’ does not alienate her from authentic spirituality, but allows her to live more fully.”– Kathleen Norris, author of The Cloister Walk

"If I was Mary Johnson, I'd be bitter, but there is no bitterness here. She writes from a place of deep love -- that unquenchable thirst -- and when she finally gives voice to it, you want to stand up and cheer. I wish the archbishops currently trying to muzzle American nuns would sit down and read this book at least three times -- and weep." - Lesley Hazleton, author of Mary: a Flesh-and-Blood Biography and The First Muslim.

More Author Recommendations