Investigative journalist Goldberg (The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, 2009, etc.) fluidly explores the extraordinary life of Indra Devi (1899-2002), the woman who helped transform the ancient Indian discipline of yoga into a worldwide phenomenon.
Born Eugenia Peterson to a noble family in Riga, Latvia, Devi’s early life was marked by instability and separations from family members. Her father vanished after divorcing Devi’s mother, who pursued a peripatetic life as an actress. After graduating from school in 1916, Devi followed her mother from Moscow to Berlin, where both immersed themselves in cabaret culture. In 1926, Devi had a life-changing encounter with Jiddu Krishnamurti, who introduced her to the Indian-inflected spirituality known as theosophy. She traveled to India, a place that so beguiled her with its “constant sense of transcendence” that she found she could no longer live comfortably in the West. She returned to India, where she continued her involvement in esoteric spirituality and began serious study of yoga, then an all-male practice. Yet she was able to charm some of the discipline’s leading exponents, including Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, into teaching her. Just before the outbreak of World War II, she moved to Shanghai with her diplomat husband, where she began teaching yoga and going by the name Indira (later changed to Indra) Devi. By 1947, she had found her way to California. There, she gravitated into the orbit of cultural luminary Aldous Huxley, taught yoga in Hollywood, and, after a divorce, married a homeopathic physician named Siegfried Knauer. Devi opened a yoga school in Mexico and became close to the Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba. Eventually, she moved to Buenos Aires, where she continued her work as a yoga teacher and lecturer. Goldberg’s book, which uses material she uncovered about Devi on four continents, is not only thoroughly researched; it also offers insights into a magnificently elusive figure, the culture she loved, and the yogic practice she bequeathed to the West.
Fascinating reading about an intriguing woman.