Desai's exquisite, exotic 10th novel follows well-to-do European newlyweds who, in 1975, embark on a spiritual search in India. The husband, an Italian named Matteo, joins an ashram and becomes a fervent devotee of an aged, solitary guru known as ``the Mother.'' But to his skeptical German wife, Sophie, the Mother is not a fount of Eastern wisdom but a ``monster spider'' who catches ``silly flies'' like the deluded Matteo. After giving birth to a son and a daughter, both of whom she raises in the ashram, Sophie flees with her children to her in-laws' Italian villa. Vowing to unmask the Mother's true identity, she then sets off to Alexandria. There, through flashbacks, we meet Laila, a free-spirited teenager, half-Egyptian, half-French, who moves to Paris, rebels against her bourgeois aunt and joins an Indian dance troupe. Falling in love with Krishna, the troupe's charismatic, aloof leader, Laila tours Venice and 1920s New York before moving with him to India, where she later renounces dance for enlightenment and transforms herself into the Mother. The story closes with excerpts from Laila's India diary and with Sophie's confrontation with the wizened, aged Krishna, whom she tracks down in Bombay. Desai (Baumgartner's Bombay) magically evokes the collision and melding of cultures and ideas as she maps the hazards and rewards of spiritual quest. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/1995 Release date: 08/01/1995 Genre: Fiction
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