Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

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First off how good is the minimalist cover of Olive Kitteridge? I really thought I got lucky with this edition not just because I love lighthouses.

I have been delaying talking about Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge because I read it within a month of my grandfather’s death. Saying we were very close would be an understatement. At first the book hurt terribly. I thought I knew heartbreak and then life decides to say ha let me show you how you wrong you are! Initially, you want to escape the pain not experience it more deeply. But then the latter is more cathartic in the long run, and you start to heal when you realize this is the way of the world. We are all connected by loss, love and longing. I was astounded by Elizabeth Strout’s writing. There’s a kind of gentleness about the everyday life she writes about. It is never banal. I never thought everyday life could be written about so poignantly and have such an immediacy to it. Ordinary people, everyday entanglements and normal lives in the hands of a gifted writer makes for exceptional storytelling.

Henry Kitteridge, the husband of Olive Kitteridge, reminded me of my grandfather – kind and affable, never wanting to make a fuss and trying his best to be in harmony with what is.

Olive Kitteridge is the portrait of a long marriage and of an only child’s failed relationship with his parents. Of learning that marriage cannot alleviate your loneliness completely even though you are bound together for life. Of being sick with longing and in need of solace. Unless one has experienced it, understanding Henry and Olive’s powerful connections outside their marriage won’t make sense. Of the deterioration and fatigue that sets in old age.

Of tender unexpected love that has no name but just gushes forth without caring if it’s appropriate and can never exist in the real world. Of deep yearning to be connected yet unable to bridge the gap.

Of truth and saying how you feel and being abrasive but straightforward being the kinder way in some cases. Of the words uttered carelessly and the damage they cause.

Of the meek and submissive becoming villainous when it is they who wield the power. It makes you wonder how people change or if you knew them in the first place.

Of small things, things of no consequence and almost invisible to others, having the capacity to cause such tremendous heartbreak that it takes you by surprise.

Of compassion lurking under battle hardened hearts and letting go of judgement, living with everything as is. Of being true to yourself above all because in the end when Death is coming for you that’s all that matters.

Olive Kitteridge showed me all that and more. I could identify with many things. Things I didn’t know I felt, things I suppressed because they weren’t important in the scheme of day to day living. And there were things I could foresee myself identifying with in the future. When a book does that you know it’s a keeper.

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Book review – Home at Last by Sarvada Chiruvolu

Note – Thanks to Amaryllis for a review copy. The opinions are my own.

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Home at Last is the kind of book which works best for someone who is looking to take a leap into the higher consciousness and finding the true self. I had my doubts about the book thinking I won’t be able to relate to anything the author said because unlike her I’m not on a quest to attain higher consciousness. But I’m aware of some niggling questions which have lingered in my psyche for years and they don’t have easy answers. In that respect, Home at Last was a step in the right direction.

It is funny how things find you when you are ready. The opportunity to review Home at Last – A Journey to Higher Consciousness came my way when I was in Puttaparthi, one of the places the author Sarada Chiruvolu, felt compelled to visit after her spiritual awakening. I was there as a volunteer this time and not as a tourist although that wasn’t my initial plan. Volunteering changes the way one looks at things because being on the inside the perspective changes, and thus I could identify better with the book.

It’s a blessing just to be given the opportunity to be of compassionate service.

The first chapter follows the foreword by Amma Karunamayi, her guru. She tells the readers how she began her journey and shares her experience while meditating. She ends the chapter with some tips concerning the frame of mind or the things one needs to do to mediate better.

This is not a how to book in the conventional sense, mainly because the path to enlightenment can’t be laid out like directions in a cookbook, step by step with exact measurements. However the book provides essential signposts of progress based on my own direct experience.

Sarada Chiruvolu makes that clear in the introduction itself and it sets the tone for the rest of the book.

In the next chapter she talks about Reiki healing and how after initiation by a Reiki master she healed herself and others including her husband. After learning Reiki she feels more compassionate towards anyone who is suffering. You can scoff at the statement but I know people like that.

In the chapter ‘Renunciation and Detachment’ she talks about how being in nature and meditating outside has a calming effect on her. I worship nature so I was delighted to have this in common with the author.

I can’t express profoundly enough in words the attachment I have with nature.

I like the way she explains free will, karma and destiny even though parts of it were unclear to me.

She found her guru in Amma Karunamayi but she doesn’t follow her blindly. She visits the ashram for meditation retreats but remains true to her duties in the material world. Later on we see that she finds it increasingly hard to balance both the worlds. The author, in narrating her experiences gives us a peek into the relationship she has with her guru and the ashram’s inner workings. As she starts meditating twice a day she talks about an inexplicable sadness taking root in her and losing interest in her job and other day to day activities as she progresses, which used to give her pleasure earlier.

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