In this captivating and surprising novel of spiritual discovery—a No. 1 bestseller in India—a young American travels to India and finds himself tested physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Max Pzoras is the poster child for the American Dream. The child of Greek immigrants who grew up in a dangerous New York housing project, he triumphed over his upbringing and became a successful Wall Street analyst. Yet on the frigid December night he’s involved in a violent street scuffle, Max begins to confront questions about suffering and mortality that have dogged him since his mother’s death.
His search takes him to the farthest reaches of India, where he encounters a mysterious night market, almost freezes to death on a hike up the Himalayas, and finds himself in an ashram in a drought-stricken village in South India. As Max seeks answers to questions that have bedeviled him—can yogis walk on water and live for 200 years without aging? Can a flesh-and-blood man ever achieve nirvana?—he struggles to overcome his skepticism and the pull of family tugging him home. In an ultimate bid for answers, he embarks on a dangerous solitary meditation in a freezing Himalayan cave, where his physical and spiritual endurance is put to its most extreme test. By turns a gripping adventure story and a journey of tremendous inner transformation, The Yoga of Max's Discontent is a contemporary take on man's classic quest for transcendence.
The Yoga Of Max's Discontent was originally published in India in Summer 2015 under the title The Seeker. This novel was inspired by author Karan Bajaj's own experiences after taking a year's sabbatical to travel across Europe and India, staying in various ashrams and studying numerous forms of meditation and yoga. The Seeker became a bestseller in India and is now scheduled for a May 2016 release (through Riverhead Books, a branch of Penguin Random House) here in the United States, under the title The Yoga of Max's Discontent.
In this novel, Max Pzoras is a man of Greek heritage who has spent his life trying to escape his impoverished roots. Having grown up in a New York City housing project, he worked hard to become a well respected Wall Street analyst. The combined mental strains of watching his mother slowly succumb to cancer AND coming away from an altercation with a mentally unbalanced homeless person one night propel Max into a new way of thinking. He starts seeing the world around him in a new, more jaded light. He becomes more aware of the human race around him being full of signs of fraility, resignation, and ultimately mortality. Grieving the loss of his mother and weighed down with thoughts on his own mortality, Max realizes it's time to reboot his whole way of life. He quits his job, leaves New York and embarks on a sort of pilgrimage across India to seek out spiritual gurus who can hopefully provide answers to his concerns and questions while teaching him on all matters related to life, death, finding nirvana, etc. Max also contemplates possibly working toward becoming a yogi himself.
Getting to his end goal is not as clear cut as it might sound. His first few days in India prove to be a bit of a reality check that shatter his rosy perception of the place. As it turns out, the people Max meets in India also have desire to be somewhere other than where they are. Imagine his surprise, traveling all this way for answers, when new friends he meets there want to leave to travel to his U.S., hopefully to escape getting trapped in a job at one of India's many customer service call centers. All the characters here seem to be looking wistfully at that other side of the fence, no matter where they are! Bit of a life truth snuck in there, eh? :-)
Max's new friends encourage him to seek whatever he is after but do warn him that the majority of the "gurus" that Americans and Europeans flock to are really just hacks. But it's worth it to seek that one true one that will be able to offer the guidance you need.
"Pilot Baba's ashram," said the man, pointing to a cluster of white houses scattered next to the statue. "If you want, you can stay here until the winter ends."
"Is he a guru?"
"Everyone is a guru in India," said the man witheringly. "Pilot Baba was just a regular pilot in the Indian Air Force. His helicopter crashed here and he had some sort of spiritual realization -- perhaps that there is more money to be made in this racket than in flying planes. So he became a guru."
Max laughed. "How did he find disciples?"
"No shortage of foreigners touring exotic India," he said. "Pilot Baba teaches that man loses his ego during orgasm, so there is plenty of sex here. Westerners love it. Spiritual McDonalds."
"And the men with painted faces and red marks?"
"Lord Shiva's devotees," said the man. "If I smoked as much hashish as them, even I'd see God everywhere."
So Max proceeds on ... only to be stopped by one traumatic event after another. He survives a near bus wreck, gets trapped in a hailstorm, lost in a snowstorm, suffers hypothermia, freezing temps. He even nearly falls off the edge of a glacier at one point! That's just in the first few months! As you can imagine, he considers turning back a number of times but something always propels him on.
The majority of the action and adventure happens early on in the book, while the later parts are more about Max reflecting on what he's come to learn as his journey progresses. A thinking man's novel, you might call it. I think one of the aspects I enjoyed the most was how author Karan Bajaj works in his symbolism. It's never shoved down the reader's throat, but instead gently woven in through scenes of Max's battles with his environments throughout different points in the story. For instance, there is a scene where Max is climbing through a portion of the Himalayas and he seems to be constantly fighting twisted roots, fallen boulders, even uprooted trees. Just when he's at his most frustrated, something compels him to look up and it's then that he notices a beautiful blue, cloudless sky. Appreciating the beauty of the day he hadn't noticed before, he also gives silent thanks for the clear sky allowing the sun's rays to reach and warm him on an otherwise chilly day. So, on a casual read that would just seem like a guy hiking, but looking deeper it gets the reader thinking about how sometimes you just need to pause and look up from what's troubling you to see all the things going RIGHT that can motivate you to continue to persevere.
When not struggling with the elements, Max also finds sometimes the biggest thing holding him back in life is himself -- his endless mind chatter, his tendency to berate himself over past mistakes or just general poor choices. But the important thing he takes away is that sometimes there are important lessons in those mistakes, lessons that maybe a person couldn't learn except through trial by fire. Max also comes to the realization that sometimes in life, certain things present themselves only at the moment they're meant to and not before. Tough lesson for all us impatient humans, right? :-)
So, definitely a good bit of food for thought in this novel! The couple knocks I would give it would be regarding the sex scenes and the profanity -- not for them being there, but for the way it was done. Regarding the profanity, I could see where it was part of a character here or there, but at times it did start to feel like it was used more than necessary... which got to be a little tiresome. As for the sex scenes (there are only a couple, and brief at that), they didn't bother me except for the fact that they didn't seem to fit into the flow of the rest of the story. I understand the concept of a man on a spiritual journey most likely struggling with what might be considered his baser desires... my issue with Max was just how his sudden need to throw down always seemed to pop up at really bizarre times, with very little lead up to these incredibly brief sessions. Like I said, just felt a little unnatural in the flow of the rest of the story.
I enjoyed Max's journey and all the symbolism and life ponderings along the way. I don't know if this novel will find an appreciative audience with any and all readers though. I would primarily recommend this book for readers who have a strong interest in yoga, meditation, karma, chakras, past lives or general New Age topics, as this novel does get pretty heavily into those areas of thought.
FTC Disclaimer: Author Karan Bajaj contacted me by email and kindly provided me with a complimentary e-copy of this book (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.
Readers interested in learning more about meditation techniques or yoga practice can find tips and video courses through Karan Bajaj's website, which you can peruse here.