Traveling in New Mexico in 1971, Will George converts to Bhakti Dharma, a new religious movement influenced by Hinduism and Sikh tradition. Returning to his home in Minnesota, he renounces his previous life, provoking a crisis for everyone in his family. Peter, Will’s older brother, is a graduate student at the University of Chicago who studies early Christian asceticism partly to understand his brother’s devotion. He gains insight into kundalini yoga, gender roles in the ashram, the guru’s charisma, and events such as Jonestown and controversies about Hare Krishna. In Thailand Peter has a profound encounter during a Buddhist meditation retreat. Meanwhile, Will’s religious search continues in India, where he dies in suspicious circumstances. Peter retraces his brother’s steps to investigate his death and wrestles with what it means to be his brother’s keeper.
The developing relationship between the two brothers dramatizes the theme of renunciation, as expressed both in explicit religious vows and in other choices they make. Acts of renunciation reveal a longing for sacrifice and self-transcendence, and sometimes also a dangerous and destructive urge. This novel explores how family relationships and religious commitments conflict, intertwine, and shape each other.
John D. Barbour is Professor of Religion at St. Olaf College. He is the author of several books, the most recent of which is The Value of Solitude: The Ethics and Spirituality of Aloneness in Autobiography (U of Virginia P, 2004).
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