CLIMBING CHAMUNDI HILL: 1001 Steps with a Storyteller and a Reluctant Pilgrim

Ariel Glucklich, Author . Harper San Francisco $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-050894-4

This book of traditional Indian lore is framed by a compelling fictional story of pilgrimage: While in Madras recovering from pain and recent illness, an American biologist becomes an unlikely pilgrim when he meets a retired Indian librarian who leads him in a climb up Chamundi Hill, a local pilgrimage site. The librarian, the storyteller of the book's title, promises him only that his feet will cease to hurt as long as he listens to the stories. As the pair progresses, so do the stories: the American becomes increasingly engaged in the older man's traditional Indian tales, questioning his newfound guide's interpretations of colorful allegories of karma and samsara, and provoking ever more challenging, mystical stories from his guide. Although the turning point of the pilgrimage would seem to coincide with a rather standard moment of enlightenment upon the hill, the experiences that resonate most memorably occur prior to this moment. They are deeply personal, psychologically fraught stories precipitated by illness, dreams and immersion in a foreign culture that the pilgrim cannot easily characterize, saying, "these are crazier than Alice in Wonderland." Glucklich, who teaches Hinduism at Georgetown University, uses the book's premise and characters to serve as the narrative device for a personal and psychologically suspenseful investigation of traditional Sanskrit wisdom stories, one that avoids the pitfalls of most guru-centered enlightenment narratives. (Dec.)

Forecast: This unique book—part travelogue, part introduction to sacred texts, part fiction—is sure to appeal to readers who want something erudite but more engaging than the usual fare of overtly autobiographical, didactic or anecdotal narratives in the Hinduism and Buddhism market. However, this same rare mixture may make the book difficult to market and shelve.

Reviewed on: 10/13/2003
Release date: 12/01/2003
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 272 pages - 978-0-06-144661-0
Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-0-06-144658-0
Ebook - 272 pages - 978-0-06-144663-4
Ebook - 272 pages - 978-0-06-185046-2
Paperback - 249 pages - 978-0-06-075047-3
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