All the Way to Heaven

Stephen Alter, Author Henry Holt & Company $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8050-5158-2
As a boy, Alter visited the Taj Mahal by moonlight, kept homing pigeons as pets, observed cremations along the Ganges and toured Himalayan valleys and peaks, speaking a mixture of Hindi and English. Born in 1956 to American Presbyterian missionaries in Mussoorie, an Indian resort town high in the Himalayas, he wistfully evokes his idyllic Indian youth in this graceful memoir. The missionary community, ""like a small town in middle America--Winesburg, Ohio, transported to the Himalayas,"" was outwardly harmonious, but beneath the neighborly, pious facade it seethed with squabbles and controversies, he reports. Alter's sporadic boyhood travels in the U.S. with his parents (Ithaca, N.Y., in 1961-1962 and a crisscrossing adventure from Los Angeles to Princeton, N.J., in 1967-1968), where he felt ""poor... cheated and deprived,"" led to his immersion in American pop culture, his atheism and his desire to become a writer. He left India for Wesleyan University in 1974. From India's cyclical rhythms and diverse cultures, he learned the potency of myth and metaphor, an experience beautifully distilled in a memoir that nonetheless remains rather detached from the wider Indian society. A writer-in-residence at MIT, Alter's novels include Neglected Lives. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!