Friday, January 3, 2014

All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, by Rachel Manija Brown

Rachel Manija Brown, All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: An American Misfit in India. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2005. 349 pages. ISBN 1594861390.

I picked up this book at the 2005 BEA convention and just now got around to reading it. I am in the process of weeding my collection of nonfiction, and making (very) hard decisions about what I am really, truly, ever going to get around to reading. When I read the back cover of this book, I knew this was one that I really did want to read, and I started it that night.

All the Fishes Come Home to Roost tells the story of Manija (now Rachel), a young girl who was taken to India at the age of 7 and raised in an ashram there until the age of 12. The ashram in which she lived was dedicated to Meher Baba, an Indian spiritual leader who lived from 1894 to 1969.  Ms. Brown's parents were followers of Baba's and moved to India so they could live according to his philosophical teachings.

Ms. Brown's memoir is filled with tales about living in the ashram with a collection of eccentric residents and visiting pilgrims. She tells harrowing stories about the conditions of the school she attended, which was taught in English, but in which she was the only foreign student. She tells us about her love for the countryside and its flora and fauna, which includes some of her best memories of India. And she tells us about her unhappiness living in a country in which she always felt like an outsider. Her lack of belief in Baba and his teachings made her an outsider even within the ashram and her family, although she was careful to keep her lack of belief a secret until she was much older.

I found All the Fishes Come Home to Roost to be funny and insightful. Ms. Brown's writing style is clear and engaging, and it kept me interested to the last page. I enjoyed reading about her conversations and encounters with her parents in which she attempts to clear up some of the mysteries of her childhood. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good memoir.

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