Five Years, Eleven Months and a Lifetime of Unexpected Love by Visakha Dasi

Five Years, Eleven Months and a Lifetime of Unexpected Love

A Memoir
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Dasi (Harmony and the Bhagavad-gita, 2015, etc.) recounts her spiritual awakening in India in this memoir.

Dasi (née Jean Papert) was studying photography as an undergraduate in Rochester, New York, when she met and fell in love with a photojournalism graduate student named John Griesser. She followed Griesser to India, where he was completing a project on the Hare Krishna movement. Dasi’s initial impressions of the country were less than ecstatic. “The moment I looked out the window at Bombay’s international airport,” she recalls, “the term ‘third-world’ shed its mystery.” Soon, however, the beauty of the landscape and the deep spiritual history of its peoples began to pull on Dasi and Griesser both. Over the course of their Hare Krishna project, which kept them in the close company of the movement’s charismatic founder, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the couple became enamored of the guru’s teachings. The world of ashrams and devotees was highly distinct from the Long Island of Dasi’s youth. For the first time, she felt she was surrounded by people “who harmonized their lives with a higher purpose, who chose to control their minds, who were not at the mercy of passion, who were striving for something pure and great.” This book is an account of Dasi’s and Griesser’s gradual conversion to the teachings of the Hare Krishna, set against the backdrop of the dynamic India of the early 1970s. The text is accompanied with brilliant photographs the couple took during that time, which lovingly frame the country as a place of great devotion. Dasi is a talented writer, particularly when it comes to documenting the specifics of places and people. Like the photographs, her descriptions are lyrical and evocative while remaining rooted in impoverished reality. Her transformation from Krishna skeptic to devotee is somewhat unsettling, particularly for secular readers who are more sympathetic to the author’s initial critiques of the faith. As a firsthand account of Prabhupada and his movement, however, the book is quite informative, and it should appeal to any readers curious about the Hare Krishnas or modern Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

An idiosyncratic recollection of travel, photography, and the Hare Krishna movement.

Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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