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My Family and Other Saints

by Kirin Narayan

University of Chicago Press
Review by Nalini Iyer
26 February 2009Nalini Iyer is Associate Professor of English at Seattle University where she teaches postcolonial literatures, nineteenth and twentieth century British literatures, and women's studies. Her current research focuses on South Asian diasporic writing in North America.

Book Description: In 1969, young Kirin Narayan's older brother, Rahoul, announced that he was quitting school and leaving home to seek enlightenment with a guru. From boyhood, his restless creativity had continually surprised his family, but his departure shook up everyone-- especially Kirin, who adored her high-spirited, charismatic brother.

A touching, funny, and always affectionate memoir, My Family and Other Saints traces the reverberations of Rahoul's spiritual journey through the entire family. As their beachside Bombay home becomes a crossroads for Westerners seeking Eastern enlightenment, Kirin's sari-wearing American mother wholeheartedly embraces ashrams and gurus, adopting her son's spiritual quest as her own. Her Indian father, however, coins the term 'urug' -- guru spelled backward -- to mock these seekers, while young Kirin, surrounded by radiant holy men, parents drifting apart, and a motley of young, often eccentric Westerners, is left to find her own answers. Deftly re-creating the turbulent emotional world of her bicultural adolescence, but overlaying it with the hard-won understanding of adulthood, Narayan presents a large, rambunctious cast of quirky characters, from her grandmother Ba, who enjoys visits from Hindu deities, to such urugs as Bhagwan Dass and the Cupboard Swami. Throughout, she brings to life not just a family but also a time when just about everyone, it seemed, was consumed by some sort of spiritual quest.

Interweaving family stories and mythology, My Family and Other Saints is a poignant reminder that the stories we tell are at the heart of the bonds that tie a family together, no matter how far afield our journeys may take us.

Excerpt from the book, at the University of Chicago website.
Review by William Grimes in the New York Times.

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