With just the right blend of empathy and intelligence, Desai (Baumgartner's Bombay, 1989) explores the West's long fascination with Indian spirituality via the story of a European couple who, like so many in the '70s, sought enlightenment in the subcontinent. When Sophie visits her ailing husband, Matteo, in an Indian hospital and begs him to return to Italy to be with her and their two children, Matteo refuses. ``You will leave, Sophie, but not I,'' he tells her. By this time they've been in India for several years, it's the mid-80s, and Sophie now understands that their children no longer matter to him: ``They were what we had left behind.'' Desai's narrative moves from continent to continent and back and forth in time, following the couple up to this impasse and beyond. In many ways, the story is also a brief, for Desai is assembling a case for understanding why people like Matteo, a child of European privilege and the 1960s, chose to go on pilgrimage, to ``journey to Ithaca.'' His unhappy childhood, and his own children's unease with their conventional grandparents, suggest some reasons for his desperate search for spiritual peace. Skeptical Sophie, on the other hand, goes to India simply because she loves her husband and thinks ``the possibilities...endless and fascinating.'' After a few years, however, the squalor they live in, the drug-crazed hippies they meet, the charlatans they're gulled byalong with Matteo's increasing estrangement from her, and his ever-greater attachment to ``Mother,'' a charismatic guruall send Sophie on a journey of her own. Determined to prove the Mother a fraud, she travels to Egypt, Europe, and the US, returning to India only to find the truth more troubling and complex than she imagined. Still, Sophie must keep traveling: the Mother is now dead, and Matteo has disappeared.... A splendidly nuanced evocation, never credulous or dismissive of those impelled to go on pilgrimage: Pilgrim's Progress updated and uprooted, but still as compelling.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-679-43900-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1995

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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