Max is a making a good living in New York City, but feels an inexplicable void that leads him to give it all up to travel to India in search of wisdom. This novel is a hero’s journey in which the quest isn’t for adventure (not in the usual sense) but for insight into his mind and a path to bliss. Along the way he finds a teacher and is assisted by others, but must ultimately find his own path. As is appropriate to such a quest, he faces hurdles within and without and it’s not always clear whether he will find what he’s searching for—or even whether it exists.
This book kept me reading. It had humor (particularly in the first part) and maintained awareness that it was a novel throughout. What I mean by the latter statement is that there is temptation for books that deal in spirituality to devolve into a muddle between story and self-help book. However, I think the author avoids that error and keeps advancing the story in a readable fashion. The descriptions of yogic practices don’t bog down the story. Those experienced with yoga will breeze right through said descriptions and know what’s happening, and those without such knowledge won’t lose much by grazing over such segments.
The book consists of 38 chapters divided into three parts. The first part covers the period during which Max moves from the US to India and seeks out a teacher. The second part describes his time studying yoga in a south Indian ashram. The final part is the period after which he’s achieved enlightenment, which he spends in the Himalayas.
I found the first two parts to the most interesting and enjoyable. The first part has all the humor and emotional turmoil one would expect from a well-developed and relatable human character. The descriptions of an austere life amid the harsh landscape of a south Indian ashram that comprise the second part make for a visceral read. Where the third part falls flat for me is that supernatural abilities are introduced, and that makes it more difficult to care about Max anymore. It’s a problem inherent in writing this type of story. While Max becomes wiser in the second section, that part doesn’t fall so flat because the life he’s living is so challenging. It’s certainly not that Max’s life is easy when he moves to the Himalayas, but by then he can speak languages he never learned and create sparks with his mind and as far as the reader knows he may be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and other superman type magic. I suspect the author was aware of the risk of this because he backs away from having Max start a fire with his mind early in the third part and the last part unfolds much more quickly.
I’d recommend this book for anyone who’s interested in a story about personal transformation. Those who’ve spent time in India will find much that resonates and those who are considering (or curious about) such a quest will glean many insights from this book.