Monday, April 21, 2008

Enlightenment for Idiots by Anne Cushmant (A Pre-publication Review - 3.5 / 5 Stars)

Enlightenment for Idiots by Anne Cushman follows Amanda, a twenty-nine year old wanna-be yoga instructor who pays the bills by writing instruction manuals for the “For Idiots” series of books (as in Computers for Idiots, etc.). Like many twenty-somethings, Amanda is struggling with the realization that her life doesn’t look or feel anything like she thought it would back when she was younger. She lives in an apartment filled with beat-up furniture; has eccentric hippie roommates; is struggling to make ends meet; and she left her “perfect on paper” fiancĂ© for a rootless photographer named Matt who makes her heart race but after three years says that he doesn’t believe in labels like “girlfriend”.

After Amanda and Matt decide to take a break from their tumultuous relationship, Amanda accepts an assignment in India where she is supposed to find enlightenment and write about it in a book called Enlightenment for Idiots. Amanda discovers more than spirituality and enlightenment in India and her life is forever changed by the monumental and unexpected discovery that she is pregnant.

Cushman’s descriptions of India are so expressive and vivid that I could almost taste the curry, see the Ganges, and smell the crowded streets of New Delhi. Cushman does a superb job of capturing the essence of India and of those who travel there to find spirituality or whatever it is they are looking for. She is masterful at capturing and conveying both the good and the bad aspects of this complicated country and it’s people – both foreign and native.

Cushman also does an exceptional job of developing her characters. This might be due in part to the fact that this novel is most likely a fictional autobiography (Cushman spent time in India writing a guide very similar to the fictional Enlightenment for Idiots). Amanda is a sympathetic and relatable figure to whom most twenty-somethings will be able to identify with. Cushman’s descriptions of Amanda’s relationship and travels through India with her friend Devi Das are touching, entertaining and humorous; as is her portrayal of Amanda’s relationship with her mother-hen-like friend, Lisa.

My only criticism of this book is that it is a bit too long. Cushman could have pared down the book by about 100 pages. I got the impression that Cushman was so moved by her own real-life travels in India that she didn’t want to leave anything out in her fictional re-telling of her adventure.

Overall, Enlightenment for Idiots is a well-written and entertaining book which highlights the joys of finding your own path and playing the hand you’re dealt with grace and acceptance that nothing is or will be perfect or the way you thought it would be. Instead of finding enlightenment, Amanda finds her true self and knowledge that acceptance of yourself and the way things are is the only true way to find nirvana.

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