From Publishers Weekly
London journalist Guest (the Guardian
; the Daily Telegraph
) shares the bittersweet story of his nomadic childhood as a member of the sannyasin,
a group of people who swathed themselves in orange and lived in the various communes of the infamous Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. In 1979, when Guest was six, he was brought into the group by his mother, a lapsed Catholic who "surrendered herself to the world without a second thought," moving to England, Germany, India and Oregon to work for the cause of Bhagwan's Eastern mysticism (which involved, among other things, engaging in sexual freedom and inhaling laughing gas). Guest played with the ragtag children of the hippie adults working in these ashrams, sometimes going for long periods of time without his mother's love or guidance. He systematically observes the daily lives of the sannyasin
and their master, refusing to trash the devotees or their spiritual beliefs, instead targeting the manipulations of Bhagwan, whom he depicts as a power-mad holy man who taught restraint, poverty and obedience yet collected Rolls-Royces and told jokes "cribbed from Playboy
." Guest forgives his neglectful mother as he records Bhagwan's fall from grace through American tax evasion, lawsuits and denials of admittance from country to country until his empire crumbled. Honest and vivid, this is an absorbing book about survival and good intentions gone awry.
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Guest's memoir recalls an ambulant childhood—a ranch here, an ashram there—among the disciples of the infamous guru Bhagwan Rajneesh, a Rolls-Royce-driving charismatic who instructed his followers to wear only the colors of the sun and to liberate themselves from bourgeois hang-ups. For his followers, the Bhagwan's communes were lands of plenty, filled with sex, drugs, t'ai-chi sessions, and primal-scream therapies. Their children, however, survived largely on their wits: Guest and his friends swipe beedi cigarettes from the commissary and get high on Darjeeling, but they're starved for belonging and belongings. One of Guest's attempts to spend time with his mother is thwarted by a sign that reads, "Motherhood Group in Progress. Please Do Not Disturb." Occasionally, his recriminations smack of a similar self-indulgence, but, as the guru's regime crumbles, Guest's account of paradise lost gains acuity from the fact that, for him, it was mostly hell in the first place.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker