On a cool summer evening in the desert between Taos and Santa Fe, two women lean on pillows, sip coffee, and discuss their past. One is a professor of history and gender studies and has been a feminist and an agnostic throughout most of her adult life. The other is a devout Muslim of the mystical Sufi Order. What brings two such different women together? Attending high school in 1950s suburban Los Angeles, Lois Banner and Fran Huneke had been best friends, with their minds on books and boys. But while Banner became an academic feminist, Fran converted to Islam and moved to Egypt. Forty years later, Banner sought out her lost friend, hoping to understand why they had taken such different paths in life.
Banner charts the trajectories of the friends' diverging lives. Her search for clues to the origins of their opposing choices takes her to Los Angeles, New York, New Mexico, and to Egypt with Fran, where each woman re-creates the key moments of her life. As Banner finished her Ph. D. in history at Columbia and became swept up in the beginnings of academic feminism, Fran embarked on her own journey, joining the Lama Foundation, a spiritual community in New Mexico, and eventually converted to Islam. Ultimately, however, it is in childhood that Banner finds the roots of their differences. She uncovers the importance of female role models, showing how the death of her own mother, and the tremendous strength and influence of Fran's, sowed the seeds of their disparate lives.
This is also the story of Banner's own spiritual journey. In the course of reconnecting with Fran, she goes to Lama and explores alternatives to the Protestantism of her own childhood. She undergoes a conversion of sorts and joins the Sufi Order in the West, a spiritual group in Los Angeles.
Exploring the intersections of biography and autobiography, East and West, faith and reason, Finding Fran is a unique portrait of two women's lives that accounts for the tremendous differences between people, even as it reveals the enduring ties of friendship.