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Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation Paperback – November 1, 2015

4.9 out of 5 stars 80 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A memoir about writing through a devastating loss. Years of work on a book, especially your first, make the day of publication a special occasion. You can't put such effort into a project without feeling a deep satisfaction when it comes to fruition; some writers compare it to welcoming a new child. Starr's (God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, 2012, etc.) first book, a translation of Dark Night of the Soul, came into the world in 2002 on the same day a police officer showed up to tell her that her daughter had died the night before in a car accident. The author understands that her spiritual journey can be best understood by setting the stage, introducing the players, and exploring the stories of the people she would turn to and rely on through the grief to come. As such, she writes about her convoluted upbringing. ‘The prevailing language of our extended family was sarcasm,’ she writes, ‘and everyone seemed to have concluded that I was linguistically impaired. When my feelings were hurt (every few minutes, it seemed), that was because I had no sense of humor.’ Surrounded by her family's substance abuse and open relationships, Starr turned to Eastern spirituality early on. She worked as an assistant for famed spiritual teacher Ram Dass, but another spiritual guide took advantage of her adolescent innocence and tricked her into a sexual relationship, followed by a predictably degrading marriage. Starr takes a curious, almost journalistic approach to relating these events of her early years. There's no sense of judgment of anybody who contributed to her tumultuous transition into adulthood. Also curious is the seeming disconnectedness of the first half of the book from the second half, but she brings them together toward the end, linking her spiritual travails to harrowing writing about her grief over her daughter. Difficult reading at times, but the sometimes-scattershot nature of the book fits the chaotic nature of the author's grief.”
Kirkus Reviews

“From the moment I began Mirabai’s personal story, I could not put it down. Though every word is the truth, her journey to becoming the brilliant mystic and writer she is today is as compelling and gritty as a great piece of fiction. I honor her for sharing her life so openly and so honestly. This is a magnificent mind-body-soul trek that really does lead to God.”
Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit and Sacred Contracts
“This is a wonderful and extremely moving book, by far the best memoir of loss and rebirth that I have read. Mirabai Starr has given us—in the plainest and most raw and pure form—the essence of what it means to transmute extreme suffering into new life.”
Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activist
“Mirabai Starr’s Caravan of No Despair is a heartbreaking, raw, vulnerable, and beautifully poignant memoir. And yet it’s so much more than that. This book inspired me—as I believe it will anyone who reads it—to go deeper into my own broken pieces while cultivating greater fearlessness and compassion for myself and others in the process. This is one of the most heartfelt and truth-inspiring books I’ve ever read. Thank you, Mirabai, for this gift.”
Chris Grosso, author of Indie Spiritualist: A No Bullshit Exploration of Spirituality and Everything Mind: What I’ve Learned About Hard Knocks, Spiritual Awakening, and the Mind-Blowing Truth of It All
“Mirabai Starr is a wonder. Nearly unique in her heart’s cradling of so many saints and adepts in her previous dozen highly regarded biographies, now, thankfully, she shares a biography of her own heart and the transitions, losses and insights, darkness and light, that so evidently brought it all to the surface. A deep bow for her generosity sharing her climb up the loose rungs of Jacob’s Ladder.”
Stephen Levine (Who Dies, One Year to Live, and Kuan Yin) & Ondrea Levine (The Healing I Took Birth For)
Caravan of No Despair is a stunning memoir from author, poet, and teacher Mirabai Starr that portrays her blossoming into a modern day mystic. But when her young daughter Jenny tragically dies on the day of publication of Mirabai’s first book, Dark Night of the Soul, everything she has learned about spirituality fails her. As Mirabai goes through her own dark night, she brings us deeply into her mystical surrender to grief. We transform with her as pain becomes healing. Mirabai has given us a precious compass to navigate the waters of loss with grace. Bravo!”
Annie Kagan, bestselling author of The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me There’s Life After Death
“Of the many—I think too many—who accept the name of spiritual teacher these days, Mirabai Starr is one of the few I personally know whom I would trust with a beloved daughter or son if I had one. And to me that is saying a lot. I don't think she can lift the Sun from her purse—from her heart—whenever she wants and place it into another’s pocket (as a great saint could), but I feel God trusts her, and that many can benefit from reading this book and personally spending time with her.”
Daniel Ladinsky, bestselling Penguin author and poet
Caravan of No Despair has all the force and radiance of the story it tells. Mirabai Starr describes the loss of a child with unrelenting heart. Then, just as you feel that you will be lost with her in the searing pain, her grief opens a gate through which love and beauty pour out in streams of light. Beautifully written. How rare to find the words to describe such depths of being.”
Paula D’Arcy, author of Gift of the Red Bird and Waking Up To This Day
“So deep and real. Thank you, Mirabai Starr, for letting us share your journey through the darkness of despair into the open sky of love.”
Krishna Das, bestselling chant artist and author of Chants of a Lifetime
“It’s more of a roller coaster than a caravan, so get ready: Mirabai Starr’s gorgeous new book will leave you reeling. It’s not just the dizzying ascents and the terrifying freefalls, although both are in plentiful supply, it’s the extraordinary framework she provides as a seer, a seeker, and a pilgrim on the holiest of paths.”
Lara Santoro, award-winning author of Mercy and The Boy
“A life-giving story with strong narrative drive and humor thrown in at exquisite moments. Fine, detailed writing. A clear-eyed journey through the grief of loss and of youth snatched away too early. Starr has created a beautiful, inspirational telling of a life that speaks to us all.”
Natalie Goldberg, author of The True Secret of Writing
“Love is a fire. Grief is a bellows that fans it to white-hot intensity. When that fire burns out, what’s left may be ashes and desolation. Or it may be the distilled incandescence of a soul.
Mirabai Starr lives that inferno of grief and emerges annealed to a new alloy of spirit. She draws water from a well of love and compassion to temper the blazing sword of wisdom. She brings that wisdom—from saints like Saint John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila and Neem Karoli Baba—into immediate experience. Through her we see how one may barely begin to bear the unbearable. Mirabai’s memoir is poetry of the spirit, of a mother’s loss, and of the renewal of a heart’s connection beyond the body. She doesn’t paper over despair; she comes to terms with it. Caravan of No Despair is a rainbow tapestry of spiritual teachings from Christian mystics, Sufi poets, Buddhist monks, and Hindu gurus. Such teachings don’t end; they just keep on beginning.”
Rameshwar Das, coauthor of Be Love Now and Polishing the Mirror(with Ram Dass)
“Like all great memoirs, Caravan of No Despair is a one-of-a-kind story sung in a melody that touches every soul. Mirabai’s journey carries us through Rumi’s heart of paradox, from unspeakable pain to sublime blessings, at once profoundly human and ecstatically transcendent.”
Philip Goldberg, author of American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yogaand Meditation—How Indian Spirituality Changed the West
Caravan of No Despair is a shimmering offering from a heart that’s been broken open by life and death. The holiness that tears through these pages doesn’t come from a mountaintop, lofty ideas, or a meditation cushion, but instead from revealing the almost unbearable joy and pain of being wholly human. Baring her all, Mirabai gifts us with a darkly luminous love story and we are forever changed as a result.”
Sera Beak, author of Red Hot and Holy: A Heretic’s Love Story
“This book, a little miracle, arose out of Starr’s recognition that grief, if experienced to the fullest, might open the soul up to something very, very holy. Her breathtaking story filled me with courage and joy I didn't know I had. This book will forever change the way we think not only about dying but about being alive.”
Demetria Martinez, author of Mother Tongue
“Mirabai Starr has written a compellingly moving and heartfelt memoir of profound loss and spiritual transformation. As an inter-spiritual bridge-builder and translator of the great mystics, Mirabai brings unique and profound insights to her life’s journey, including her counterculture childhood and her daughter’s life and tragic death. A deeply revealing book that transcends pain to become an inspiration.”
David Frenette, author of The Path of Centering Prayer
“By turns heartbreaking, lyrical, humorous, and poignant, this caravan carries not a hint of despair. Calling all mystics and seekers to get on board!”
Sean Murphy, author of One Bird, One Stone: 108 Contemporary Zen Stories and The Time of New Weather
“An absorbing story of love and loss, Caravan of No Despair brings the depth of a mother’s grief and healing fully to life. Mirabai’s open heart and growing wisdom shine through the telling of her own story.”
Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness

"From the memorable title to the memorable ending, you will be haunted, attracted, and transformed by Mirabai's integrity and message. Plus the writing itself will carry you along! Don't miss such an opportunity, such a grace, and such a ride!"
—Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Center for Action and Contemplation

About the Author

Mirabai Starr

Mirabai Starr teaches philosophy and world religions at the University of New Mexico, and is the author of new translations of Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross and The Interior Castle and The Book of My Life by Teresa of Avila. She lives in Taos.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Sounds True (November 1, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1622034139
  • ISBN-13: 978-1622034130
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #195,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Paul Wapner on November 2, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I struggle to find words to describe the deep beauty of this heart-rending, gorgeous book. It grabbed me from its first pages—which I read standing up—and, over just a few days, carried me through to its powerful end. Caravan of No Despair offers that rare gift: a window into someone else’s life that is so illuminating that we feel ourselves in the world in a new way.

Mirabai Starr tells about growing up in the 1960s and 70s with spiritually inclined, hippy parents who let her find her own way amidst great personal loss and all the confusions that go with childhood. Seeking genuine spiritual growth, Starr exposes herself to the exploits of an older man who offers himself as a teacher and lover, and struggles to live through the tortuous years as a wife and soon mother. The center of the book is about her relationship with her daughter Jenny, whose loss digs to the core of Starr’s bones.

Starr writes with incredible precision and perceptiveness. The book is a testament to literary elegance. She is also bitingly honest—about her own shortcomings and the cruelties of those around her, and about the interior experience of loss. In this latter regard, Starr offers vocabulary with which readers will recognize their own feelings and be able to touch them in a more profound way. I have rarely cried while reading a book but, in this instance, I often had to wipe away tears so I could keep reading (and frequently smiled at Starr’s depictions of humorous events and of her own naiveté).

Although about loss, the book is actually an embrace of life. Starr writes about the universal story of trying to be human in a world suffused with much pain. Reading it tore at my heart but ultimately touched my soul. When I finished it, I stared into space for a very long, beautiful time.
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By David on November 1, 2015
Format: Paperback
I was fortunate to recently attend a retreat led by Mirabai that focused on loss, grief, and love. What I took from her guidance is that if you feel it, it is real. Nobody else needs to validate your broken heart. Her loss of a child is incompressible to me as a father. However, I learned that all grieving, a loss of a loved one to a romance that never was, are points in our life that we can choose to learn from as we go forward as opposed to letting them become a place at which we stop.
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Searing, stunning, gripping and spilling over with love. Mirabai Starr shares her personal walk through the fire in the death of her daughter. I couldn't put this memoir down, and read it almost in one sitting. Having this author open her heart in such vulnerability touched me deeply, and moved me to a place where I reflect on our common human family, our humanity that knits us together, and the pain and broken-heartedness that (paradoxically) is our strongest healer. Whether you are a spiritual seeker or simply a lover of a gripping story, you will enjoy this book.
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A mystic is someone you will follow anywhere—not without questions, not without doubts—and trust with your spiritual and physical life. In this age of faux gurus and self-help barkers, it is difficult to connect with someone authentic. Mirabai Starr is truly a mystic in the deepest sense of that overused yet magical, exhilarating word.

The greatest spiritual teachers have always come into their authenticity through healthy doses of reluctance. Buddha wanted to know; he wanted that more than he wanted to teach. Jesus begged God to lift his burden from him. Joan of Arc wanted only to serve her country and return to her village. The Dalai Lama often reminds interviewers that he is just a man who loses his temper, yells at people and does things every day he regrets. Starr is right at home in this illustrious company. Her new book, Caravan of No Despair, consistently delivers what memoirs have such a hard time doing—presenting not just what happens, but also recreating real, suffering, sleepwalking and exhilarated human beings.

One of the world’s most sought after inter-spiritual speakers and the celebrated translator of renowned mystics such as St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen, Starr has led an inspiring, richly textured and cinematic life. Born to radical, politicized Jewish parents steeped in the 1960s antiwar and civil rights movements, buffeted by the deaths of her beloved older brother and first love, enduring the break-up of her parents, spending a girlhood of communal living in south America and New Mexico, and surviving more than a decade attached to an abusive mentor and teacher, Starr’s story would be memorable if it ended there.

But all this was only her beginning.
Read more ›
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Mirabai Starr has given us translations of the Carmelite mystics, meditations on trans-ecumenical themes, and pure spiritual wisdom from the Path, and from her path. In Caravan of Despair, she gives us the texture of the road itself, her own very particular road, through the loss of her daughter and the reality of grief. Loss is often the point where faith is lost: why God should "allow," or even cause such pain is beyond human explanation. Job gives it to those who try to explain it. Mirabai just shows us the way through the inexplicable. The Buuddha was once approached by a woman who wanted him to show her the way out of grief. He told her to go find a household without grief, and bring him a mustard seed from it. She came back years later with no mustard seed, and entered upon the eightfold path. Every house has its grief. Mirabai speaks to that, without flinching. This is a book to cherish, a book from the abyss, with the good news that the abyss is not the end. Love survives grief. Mirabai doesn't explain that. She does not pretend it is explainable. She simply witnesses it, with truth and authenticity born of the full experience of the flame.
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