Saturday, December 28, 2019

Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss

Title:  Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss
Author:  Rajeev Balasubramanyam
Publication Information:  The Dial Press. 2019. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0525511385 / 978-0525511380

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It should have been the greatest day of his life."

Favorite Quote:  "I realize now ... that my mistake was in thinking that I had nothing else to learn in life. I think if there's nothing new to learn, there's probably no point being alive at all."

Many books have been written recently about curmudgeonly old characters who are at a crossroads in their life and find a new direction. Some discover joy right where they are. Some make dramatic changes to find the peace and satisfaction they seek. Either way, the books impart some life lessons about finding our own bliss. Most of the books that work do so because the main character is either charming and endearing that I, as a reader, root for them or because the character is compelling in some way as to keep me reading.

That is the expectation with which I begin this book. Professor Chandra is divorced, estranged from one of his three children, and has not indeed won the Nobel Prize as he thinks he should. An accident forces him to change paths. According to the book description, "he's about to embark on the journey of a lifetime."

This journey brings him from Cambridge to the United States, where his ex-wife lives with her new hippie significant other. The issue is that, for me, the professor or his family are not characters I relate to or find likable. Unfortunately, the professor, as the main character, does not evolve into a compelling character through the book either. He remains somewhat pompous, presumptuous, and self-centered. The fact that the book uses the character to also repeatedly pass judgment on American culture:

  • "Jean was bored, Chandra decided that Western ailment caused by the collapse of the joint family and the invention of labor-saving devices."
  • "It was six promiscuous yet deeply conservative youngsters who lived well below their means and, with the exception of the academic, lacked any ambition, drive, intelligence or common sense. In economic terms they were idiots, though this was also true of ninety percent of undergraduates."
  • "... he still blamed them for failing to elect Hillary Knows-Some-Economics Clintons, which was more than could be said for the Oaf who wouldn't know a demand curve curve it if wrapped itself around his pizza-laden stomach."
  • "But this was the way it was nowadays:  those who had a proper education used it for knavery, while those who lacked one did not think it important."

The fact that Professor Chandra's adventure in the USA leads to Esalen seems to just build on the stereotype of self-discovery. In the professor's context, it just does not ring true.

Satire? Perhaps that is the intent. Unfortunately, for me, it does not work.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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