21 April 2008

17. Enlightenment for Idiots

Let me begin this review with the statement that I enjoyed the book. While I did not find spiritual enlightenment, I feel sure that I now know something about the idea of enlightenment from a variety of perspectives. My only complaint about the book is that it is too long – the details and descriptions are individually stunning, but I think some could have been shortened or deleted for the sake of the book’s readability.

Enlightenment for Idiots by Anne Cushman follows twenty-nine year old Amanda as she travels across India looking for enlightenment. As she tries to untangle her failing relationships with two men, she accepts a book contract for a tourist guide to enlightenment in India. With her advance money and a somewhat broken heart, she begins her quest. The author’s descriptions of the people and places of India are stunning – from the sights, the smells, and cultural mores of the country to the sense of confusion as she navigates from place to place. To further complicate matters, she finds herself pregnant. I loved that she persevered with her journey despite recommendations from friends and family that she should return home immediately. She is sustained emotionally by a friend she met along the way – Devi Das, who has his own story. Ultimately, Amanda returns home to have her baby. Still in love with the father, she finds that things do not always work out the way you had hoped and that sometimes that is good.

Hoping to learn a little more about the author, I Googled her and found that she co-authored another book From Here to Nirvana which is a non-fiction guidebook to traveling in India. The introduction to this work gives wonderful insight to the author’s own experiences which are then filtered to Enlightenment for Idiots.

"The guidebook should give elaborate directions – complete with train schedules and hotel rates – to the sites of fleeting and unrepeatable incidents: a blessing from an ash-covered sadhu by a funeral pyre, a vision of Kali in a dream on the cramped top bunk of a sleeper train. It should advertise as coming attractions events that happened thousands of years ago: the Enlightenment of Buddha under the Bodhi Tree; Krishna seducing the milkmaids on the riverbanks near Vrindaban. And in the midst of an indecipherable bus schedule, a verse from the Upanishads should be printed, so shimmeringly beautiful that it precipitates sudden enlightenment. … A spiritual journey to India is inevitably a swan dive into the unknown." (Cushman and Jones, 1998, From Here to Nirvana, pp. 1-2)

Overall I really enjoyed the book – the author’s knowledge of yoga gave an authenticity to her writing that was very evident to the reader. Thank you for the opportunity to read and review this title. I will definitely recommend it to others.

TITLE: Enlightenment for Idiots
AUTHOR: Anne Cushman
PAGES: 384
TYPE: Fiction
RECOMMEND: I would recommend this for light reading


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