EPISODES by Pierre Delattre


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 Autobiography of a dharma bum, told in one-page vignettes and essays, each focusing on an epiphany of some sort. Countercultural life of the 50's and 60's forms the background of this memory grab bag by Delattre (Walking on Air, 1980; Tales of a Dalai Lama, 1971), a former ordained Presbyterian minister who once criticized his congregation by calling the institutional church ``the greatest impediment to spiritual life in America.'' Delattre's stunned congregation so welcomed the criticism that it let him open an experimental coffee-house ministry on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill, where he became ``a kind of nondenominational street priest'' for beatniks and Zen folk looking for beatitude. Delattre first found his own satori when a sick friend announced the hour of his death and then died on schedule, holding the author's hand: ``I felt a hot electric surge flow up my arm, flower in my mind, charge my whole body with such an urge to laugh that I could hardly control myself.'' Serving spaghetti, coffee, bread, and wine to some 300 people nightly at the Telegraph Hill mission, Delattre became known as ``the beatnik priest'' and was heralded by features in Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times. But bad habits pursued him and things fell apart (including the first two of Delattre's three marriages). Appearing throughout his pages here are Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Bill Graham, Charles de Gaulle, Richard Brautigan, Albert Schweitzer, Nikos Kazantzakis, and the Dalai Lama and Tibetan priests, among others. At one point, MGM calls Delattre in as a consultant on the filming of Jack Kerouac's The Subterraneans, in which Gerry Mulligan played the author as a jazz-priest. Pleasurable but familiar fare that might move younger readers more than older.

Pub Date: July 19th, 1993
ISBN: 1-55597-180-6
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1993