In her first novel since the widely praised Baumgartner's Bombay, Anita Desai brilliantly evokes spiritual India in all its endless complexity, and examines the nature of pilgrimage through the aspirations and adventures of three superbly realized characters.
Matteo and Sophie join the 1970s flight of young Europeans to India. Matteo -- Italian, raised in the luscious countryside around Lake Como, restless since childhood -- has been introduced by a tutor to Hermann Hesse's The Journey to the East, and it opens in him a desperate longing. Sophie -- German, practical, worldly -- is willing to follow him to the ends of the earth.
In India, together they visit swamis, gurus, ashrams -- always searching. Matteo is seeking spiritual enlightenment, but for Sophie fulfillment lies in earthly love. And when they meet a holy woman known as the Mother, the differences between them seem to explode.
When we learn the Mother's story, we see it as an earlier version of their own -- the story of a young girl growing up in Cairo and finding her way East by joining a troupe of Indian dancers she has met in Europe. Her journey, a young woman's daring progress through Paris and Venice and New York, until she finds her moment of transcendence in India, comments on, and gives added breadth to, the young couple's quest.
In telling what happens to Matteo and Sophie and the mother, Anita Desai gives us a novel of great richness, an extraordinary vision of a country, and a compassionate portrait of people struggling to find a spiritual home. Journey to Ithaca is her most powerful and most involving novel.
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Published January 1, 1996
by Distributed by Orient Longman.
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