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Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (April 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307393925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307393920
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,227,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Tamm's parents met in the Manhattan apartment of the guru Sri Chinmoy and quickly married each other at his insistence; when they violated his commandment not to have sex with each other, however, he regrouped by declaring that their daughter, Tamm, would become his greatest disciple. The cult leader was a skilled manipulator, and Tamm's descriptions of her internalization of his predation, constantly blaming herself for not feeling worshipful enough, are wrenching. The outward pressures were equally difficult: she was forbidden a college education and sent abroad when she was caught violating the cultwide ban on dating—and the first time she was banished from the group, she begged for readmittance. Tamm, now in her late 30s and a professor at Ocean County College in New Jersey, is unsparing in her account of the psychological damage Sri Chinmoy inflicted on her and her family, from her parent's loveless marriage to her half-brother's gleeful acceptance of the role of the guru's enforcer. She reveals the difficulties in shaking off the guru's influence—under which she had spent literally her entire life before her final expulsion—and though readers might wish to hear more about how she eventually regained her identity, the harrowing details of her story create a sense of emotional devastation that will linger. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In this frank, clear-eyed memoir, Tamm recounts her youth as the chosen disciple of Sri Chinmoy, the wildly charismatic leader of a New York–based spiritual sect that counts celebrities and heads of nations among its millions of followers. “All of my childhood memories involve trying to obey and please guru,” Tamm writes, and with concise, absorbing detail, she describes her early years, spent playing board games such as “Disciple Chutes and Ladders” (“Did not meditate soulfully—Go back ten spaces”); her chaste but forbidden teen encounters with guys, after which the Guru reminds her, “The Supreme is your eternity’s boyfriend”; and a young-adult crisis that leads to a suicide attempt and, ultimately, her break with the cult. Tamm never sensationalizes the facts, and her narrative restraint only intensifies the emotional impact of each incident. Witty, compassionate, and often heartbreaking, Tamm’s story offers crucial insight into a cult’s inner workings and methods of indoctrination. All readers, though, will recognize universal coming-of-age themes as Tamm discards unwanted childhood lessons and begins to shape an independent adult life. --Gillian Engberg

More About the Author

Born and raised as the 'chosen one' in the cult of the guru Sri Chinmoy, Jayanti Tamm spent the first twenty-five years of her life living inside the guru's inner circle. She wrote about her life in the memoir, Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult.

Today, Jayanti is an English professor at Ocean County College. She is married and can be found chasing after her toddler.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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For me the book was very insightful about the workings within this particular cult.
Amazon Customer
All that aside, this is one of the best books I've read recently, and I went through it in a single day.
N. Panc
This book is a must for anyone interested in personality cults and the power of religious "group think."
Susan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Susan on July 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a student of history of religions and religious cults, I found this memoir to be very interesting indeed. I met Sri Chinmoy myself on several occasions and had many conversations with disciples of his, and Jayanti Tamm's description of him, his personality, and his relationships with his disciples conform completely to what I personally observed. Her honesty is commendable; she makes no apology for the life she lived in Sri Chinmoy's world, and she describes her crisis of faith in stark but touching detail. Tamm's writing is of the highest caliber and I read the book in one extended sitting. This book is a must for anyone interested in personality cults and the power of religious "group think."
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By L. Pittroff on June 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
A very interesting and insightful look into growing up in a cult. This story really portrays how "wandering souls" can get pulled into a cult group. My eyes were really opened at the authors descriptions of everyday life in a cult. It was amazing to me that the members really did nothing but work for, and try to please their Guru. The Guru was their life and they literally obeyed every order from him without question.
Growing up the author never knew another way of life. The Guru tried to keep all of his members uneducated, but the children were allowed to go to school. It was here that the author wondered why "everyone didn't have a Guru?"
After many years of questioning her commitment to her Guru, the author was able to break away from the group and start a life of her own. Considering how deeply ingrained this way of life was to her, it is amazing that she was able to get out and stay out.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By K. Webster on May 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I've been fascinated with cults for decades, but found this book particularly insightful because it demonstrates both the attractions of cult life -- the ease of following a prescribed path and feelings of superiority to nonbelievers -- as well as the emptiness and helplessness that result from giving up control of your life. Jayanti Tamm illustrates all the mechanisms of social control, competition, and absurdity that result as Sri Chinmoy requires his followers to demonstrate their loyalty in more and more extreme ways. I was moved by her unique dilemma as "The Chosen One" and as a child growing up in the cult; joining wasn't her choice. She creates incredible suspense as she chronicles her efforts to leave and break free, too. I only wish she had gone on a bit longer, and written more about her transition to "normal" American life. I'd also be curious to know whether the charges of innappropriate sexual activity by the guru were ever substantiated. All in all, a fascinating read!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Earth Momma on June 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As a memoir whore, I looked forward to this book and was not disappointed. Tamm offers solid, strong prose that fully probes her very unconventional upbringing. It was easy to understand how a person can't leave a cult--the mind control is overwhelming. At times the reflection might have gone on a beat too long, but it's forgivable, as this author spent about half her young life in meditation. A few years ago I read Deborah Santana's memoir, which also involves Sri Chinmoy; it was intriguing to see this closer view of him. Overall, Cartwheels is a good read.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By vabookreader on May 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In _Cartwheels in a Sari_, Jayanti Tamm sensitively describes her birth, childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood in Sri Chimnoy's inner circle as his lineage holder, chosen at birth. Tamm's book acknowledges from the start that "this memoir isn't the definitive account of Sri Chimnoy; it is my own remembrance," yet her honesty throughout makes this account both highly credible and extremely readable. The book details her own impressions from her earliest memories of "Guru" to her beginning doubts and loss of identity as she struggled to reconcile the contradictions she saw in Sri Chimnoy's personality and manipulations, with her, and her family's, pivotal role in his community.

The book begins before Tamm's birth, when her parents met one evening at a Sri Chimnoy center, married almost immediately on the orders of Chimnoy, and then had two children. As Tamm puts it, "The night, decades earlier, when they surrendered their lives to Guru, they unknowingly surrendered mine as well." The memoir unfolds so that we, as readers, see Sri Chimnoy first through a child's eyes, then from the point of view of an adolescent, and later in early adulthood to the present. Along the way, Tamm outlines her growing doubts and concerns about what she saw and her problem of having no one to confide in. People in the organization would report any sign of doubt or questioning back to Chimnoy, and Tamm had very few contacts with the outside world, hence the title "growing up cult." The problems and contradictions intensify, becoming almost inescapable.

For example, at one point, Tamm as an elementary school student hears Chimnoy ask in a sermon on a bus filled with disciples, "Could you not kill her?" in reference to Alo, one of Chimnoy's members. Tamm questions, "Nothing made sense.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By K. L. Childs on May 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
What draws a person into a cult? Ms. Tamm's poignant and funny exploration of her life with Sri Chinmoy brings up a lot of questions. Many of his disciples stayed for decades despite the mounting absurdity of the Guru's antics. Why did she and her parents eventually leave while her brother remained? How did they manage the difficult transition into popular culture? These questions are explored in a personal way that is lively and courageous. I enjoyed the memoir very much.
Kimberly
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