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This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Claire Hoffman
Published by Harper on June 7th 2016
Source: the publisher
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In this and intimate memoir, an acclaimed journalist reflects on her childhood in the heartland, growing up in an increasingly isolated meditation community in the 1980s and ’90s—a fascinating, disturbing look at a fringe culture and its true believers.
When Claire Hoffman is five-years-old, her mother informs her and her seven-year-old brother Stacey, that they are going to heaven—Iowa—to live in Maharishi’s national headquarters for Heaven on Earth. For Claire’s mother, Transcendental Meditation—the Maharishi’s method of meditation and his approach to living the fullest possible life—was a salvo that promised world peace and enlightenment .
At first this secluded utopia offers warmth and support, and makes these outsiders feel calm, secure, and connected to the world. Claire attends the Maharishi school, where her meditations were graded and she and her class learned Maharishi's principals for living.
But as Claire and Stacey mature, their adolescent skepticism kicks in, drawing them away from the community and into delinquency and drugs. Eventually, Claire moves to California with her father and breaks from Maharishi completely. A decade later, after making a name for herself in journalism and starting a family, she begins to feel exhausted by cynicism and anxiety. She finds herself longing for the sparkle filled, belief fueled Utopian days in Iowa, meditating around the clock.
So she returns to her hometown in pursuit of TM’s highest form of meditation — levitation. This journey will transform ideas about her childhood, family, and spirituality.
Greetings from Utopia Park takes us deep into this complex, unusual world, illuminating its joys and comforts, and its disturbing problems. While there is no utopia on earth, Hoffman reveals, there are noble goals worth striving for: believing in belief, inner peace, and a firm understanding that there is a larger fabric of the universe to which we all belong.
This is a fascinating look at Transcendental Meditation and enlightenment. I don’t know much about meditation other than the most basic knowledge, so I was interested in reading about how a child grew up in the culture and returned as an adult, learning how to cope and how to grow and change, both as a mother and as a women and a wife.
Since the book is a memoir, there is obviously some information about her family history, but the book is mostly about the TM movement and its founder, but it’s also to a certain extent a coming of age story. There’s a lot of suffering here, but mostly it’s about Claire’s loneliness, something I think we can all relate to.
While this is a great memoir and is very well written, I did have a few issues with it. I felt Claire really skirted the truth about a lot of issues – she brought up some subjects / controversies, but really didn’t dive into them – again, this book is a memoir and not a tell all, but in books like this I always say the same thing – why bring up the subject at all if you aren’t going to delve into it?
I also didn’t care for the ending, where Claire really glosses over the last few years of her life, only very briefly mentioning her time with her father / late teen/early adult years. Considering this book was supposed to be a contrast between her youth and her adult years, this was disappointing.
All in all, an interesting read about a subject I knew little about.
About Claire Hoffman
Claire Hoffman writes for national magazines and holds a Master’s degree in Religion from the University of Chicago, and a Master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University. She was a staff reporter for the Los Angeles Times and has reported for the New York Times. She serves on the board of her family foundation, the Goldhirsh Foundation, as well as ProPublica and the Columbia Journalism School. She lives in Los Angeles, California.