Monday, March 02, 2009

Chewy introspects

A few days ago, a friend had handed me a copy of A Grasshopper’s Pilgrimage and asked me whether I’d like to review it on this blog. I was a little surprised because I’ve had very few such requests, and besides, reviewing is something I do very reluctantly, because it feels like too much of a bother having to explain why a book or film worked, or didn’t. But here goes:

I must begin with a disclaimer and a confession. I am totally not into spiritual reading. I shy away from books that come with spiritual/religious tags and over the years, I’ve become suspicious of anything that describes itself as a ‘journey of the soul’ or something along those lines. Which is not to denigrate the genre. It is just that I personally start to get restless and irritable at the mention of the soul.

It was, therefore, with a small measure of trepidation and guilt that I agreed to do this review. It isn’t fair to approach a book with shelf-sized biases. That said, I have to confess that this book was a pleasant surprise. It was smooth reading right through. Author Manjushree Abhinav chose to tell an honest story instead of wrapping up a sermon in a novel’s cloak.

A Grasshopper’s Pilgrimage takes you through confusion and heartbreak, and the romancing of Gopika’s soul. The protagonist is a young, attractive woman from a family of atheists and finds herself inexorably drawn to Gurus, meditation centers, ashrams and the like, much to the consternation of her revolutionary grandparents. Each time she thinks she has found a solution, she is forced to reconsider – questions, answers, solutions, free will, screws, all of that.

Those are big words and big dilemmas, yes. But I think what works in this novel is that the protagonist is very real. Her language feels real. Her family and social context feels real. Her disappointment about love not being such a pat little affair, and her fears about not being good at her job, not knowing what she is good at – these are themes anyone can identify with, regardless of how deeply rooted they are in the spiritual realm. For a spiritual book, this turned out to be surprisingly temporal fare, and I’m glad I read it after all.

My personal take-home from this novel: it forced me to think. Mostly about why I resist spiritual reading (or viewing) so hard. I think I found some answers too. But that’s for me to chew on, alone.

To others, I would recommend the book if you’re looking for reading that isn’t so light that it becomes meaningless, and yet is not so heavy that you’ve got to shake your head every ten pages to make room for more verbiage. Finally, it is a well-written account of a young woman looking for – presumptuous of me to say this, but I’ll say it anyway – herself, and of the people who helped her get there. It is a story well-told and that’s why we read, don’t we?


Banno said...

My thoughts, exactly.

Did you read my review of the book on Upperstall Blogs?

'grasshopper in a local train'

Happy chewing!

Manjushree Abhinav said...

Hey, thanks for the review.

But I would love to know what answers you are chewing on. I promise not to tell.

Sumedha said...

I've always been quite skeptical of "self-help" or spiritual books, or books that promise to "heal your soul" or help you "find yourself". I've stayed very faw away from them. Mainly, I've never understood the meaning of "finding yourself". But recently, I think I've understood the meaning of trying to find yourself, and understanding who you are. I started college a while ago, and it's really made me think about what I want to do, how I want to do it... about who I am now and who I want to be.

I'm still wary of the self-help books that offer to help me find answers to these questions, but I think I might like to read A Grasshopper's Pilgrimage. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, Annie!

Thanks for reviewing the book. I'm happy you liked it.

With love,
urf Rajashree :-)

JKD said...

Yes, I LOVED the book.... It just flows so easy, not dragging either its feet or you, the reader..!!!
And I LOVED the Bombay it portrays....! :-) Looking forward to Manjushree's next...

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