EMPIRE OF THE SOUL by Paul William Roberts


Some Journeys in India
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 Roberts (In Search of the Birth of Jesus, 1995, etc.) cobbles together an absorbing pastiche of his India forays over a span of 20 years. Back in the mid-1970s, fresh from Oxford, Roberts lands in Bombay, looking for Truth but willing to sample anything thrown his way. He does spend many days and nights among holy men and saints and yogis and spiritual teachers (at one point he enjoys a tranquil, pastoral year at the ashram of Sathya Sai Baba in Puttaparthi), even experiences an epiphany of sorts (Roberts is the first to admit that putting such an event down on paper is grasping at straws). But he's most comfortable telling little episodes and incidents, anecdotes, conversations, and brief histories, willing to let the babel and bedlam of his India work its magic on him. It might be Bombay, which ``smelled like the enveloping breath of a monster gorged on overspiced sewage''; or the albescent peaks, flashing rivers, and green valleys of Swat, a Shangri-la he visits with a brash drug wholesaler; or his numerous run-ins with the plain and sad and awful, from prostitutes to junkies, the dirt poor to witless spirit questers. He fashions a nifty, concise history of Goa from the early 16th century and takes a bead on Mother Teresa (a tad vain, and more than a tad manipulative) and the goatish Bhagwan Sharee Rajneesh (late of Seattle and Rolls-Royce fame). Cultural dissonances play him like a stringed instrument, changing the way he sees things. When he returns in the 1990s, the general state of decay has advanced, but the subcontinent continues to keep Roberts off balance and knee-deep in strange adventures. In presenting his personal India, Roberts is an artful skeptic, a relativist with a sense of humor, and a crackerjack storyteller.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1996
ISBN: 1-57322-047-7
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1996


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