Book Review: The Making of a Spiritual Hero

I was fascinated by the back story.

Using an easy, conversational tone, Stephan Talty provides us with rare glimpses of the Dalai Lama’s childhood and adolescent years.

As a precocious two-year old, the Dalai Lama delighted and exasperated his parents, especially his mother.  He would often pack a small bag, tie it to a stick and tell his mother he was leaving for Lhasa.

The Dalai Lama inherited his father’s dark moods and liked to torment his older brother.  At the monastery, he would shake with rage whenever he lost a game.  He was also obsessed with war games, military drills and dangerous stunts. In his mid-teens, he realized that anger was a destructive force and turned to the Buddhist scriptures for inspiration and guidance.

In Escape from the Land of Snows, Talty focuses on the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s flight to India during a two-week period in 1959. Accompanied by a 300-person escort, the 24-year old monk left behind the comfort and splendor of his summer palace and traveled across the highest terrain in the world and over treacherous Himalayan passes.  Forced to sleep in tents and endure extremes in temperatures, he arrived in India sick with dysentery and stripped of his possessions.

Talty gives us an accurate picture of the political climate of Tibet by skilfully weaving dates, numbers and historical data into the narrative.  He also provides a glossary, bibliography and maps.  Throughout the book, Talty includes comments from local reporters, CIA agents, members of the Dalai Lama’s family and individual Tibetans.  He succeeds in piecing together all these elements and producing a smooth narrative.

It is an inspiring tale that chronicles the transformation of a naive, childlike monk into a spiritual hero renowned for his compassion and commitment to mankind.

Book Review: The Prosperous Heart

The author of more than thirty books—fiction and nonfiction—Julia Cameron is best known for her international bestseller, The Artist’s Way, which has helped millions of people realize their creative dreams. While conducting lectures and facilitating workshops over a thirty-five year period, Cameron discovered that many of her students did not want to talk about money and felt they could handle anything but money. She decided to write The Prosperous Heart, a book that would give her students “the tools to address their money issues directly while maintaining spiritual balance and an active creative life.”

Fans of Cameron’s books will recognize two of the tools: Morning Pages (three hand-written stream-of-consciousness journal pages written each morning) and a twenty-minute daily walk. New tools include Counting, recording each penny earned and saved in a small journal; Abstinence, a complete abstaining from any further debt; and Time-Outs, two five-minute periods of sitting quietly to consciously count your blessings or simply rest.

Cameron provides short exercises to complete as we go through the 12-week program and at the end of each chapter (week), there is a check-in and a list of “prosperity points.” She advises us to “choose the exercises you are most attracted to and the ones you are most resistant to. Our resistance often points us toward ‘pay dirt.’”

While guiding us through the prosperity plan, Cameron encourages us to be open to the unexpected gifts and answers that may appear along the way. In describing her recent move from New York to Santa Fe, Cameron demonstrates what can happen when we step out of our comfort zones. She explains, “I often find when my students shake the apple tree, oranges fall. And oranges may have been just what they were looking for after all.”

She stresses the need to accept even the smallest steps as progress and makes comparisons to other 12-step programs. In the chapter on forgiveness, she advises us to let go of “feelings, beliefs, and circumstances that do not serve you” and “open the door to allow the Higher Power to co-pilot your life.” While she liberally uses the word God throughout the book, she encourages readers to make their own substitutions.

Unlike other financial gurus, Julia Cameron does not preach or scream her message as she addresses the practical side of the creative life. The tone is a much gentler one which recognizes the greyness that often surrounds money issues. When outlining the prosperity plan, she reminds us that we will “slip backward and revert to old spending habits.” But the important thing is not to be discouraged. She ends the book with the following message: “Living a prosperous life means living a day at a time. It means starting over each morning, forgiving ourselves and beginning anew when we make mistakes, picking ourselves up when we fall, keeping on track.”

Book Review: The Imposter Bride

It is a woman’s worst nightmare.

After she crosses two oceans, Lily Azerov learns that  her prospective husband no longer wants her. Fortunately, his brother steps in and offers to marry her instead.

But Lily, the imposter bride, has more pressing problems. Described as a “broken bird” by her mother-in-law, this fragile woman cannot adapt to her new life in post-WWII Montreal. She has stolen a dead woman’s identity and feels survivor’s guilt as she absorbs memories, dreams and fantasies that do not belong to her. After giving birth to a daughter, Lily leaves Montreal.

The book alternates between chapters told in third person and those narrated by Lily and her daughter, Ruth. As Ruth matures, she becomes more curious about the mysterious mother who left behind an uncut diamond and a Yiddish notebook.

The larger cast of characters includes other broken souls, among them Bella, who lost three children during the Russian Revolution, and Ida Pearl, a local jeweller who was abandoned by a philandering husband. Each of the characters claims to have some insight into why Lily really left.

Canadian novelist Nancy Richler has written a compelling story that will keep you reading well into the night.