Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Claire Hoffman
Published by Harper
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours
From the publisher:
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 book sounded interesting to me because I am always up for learning about a different religion, especially one considered to be strange or, even better, cult-like to outsiders. I knew almost nothing about Transcendental Meditation before reading this book, so in that area this was a total win for me, as Hoffman does a pretty good job familiarizing the reader with the religion and explaining why they do certain things and what it’s all supposed to mean. I was fascinated by this religion, and specifically loved when Hoffman went into details about the different rules and rituals, the symbolism of different aspects of the faith, and some of the history behind the faith and its leader, Maharishi. This was by far my favorite aspect of the book – every time she started getting into details about the faith and the practice of meditation that seemed to be the bedrock of that faith, I was riveted to the page, eager to take in more and more information.
Unfortunately, that’s kind of where the love for this book starts and stops with me. I didn’t really connect to Hoffman, so that made it really difficult for me to latch onto any specific aspect of her personality OR care about her story. I was interested, yes, but did I care what happened to her? No, not at all, which is a definite issue when reading a memoir – for me, at least, I kinda have to give a crap about the person telling me their story. And in this case, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t.
The other issue I had was that when I turned the final pages, I was still asking myself why. Why did Hoffman choose to write this book? What story was she really trying to tell? Was the point for her to explore how and why people blindly follow religious figures, even to their personal detriment? Or was the point to say that, sure this religion is kind of messed up and weird, but lots of people who follow it are normal and just looking for a spiritual path, and actually they might be right about doing it this way? The fact that I can’t really tell where Hoffman falls on the wide spectrum between those two ideas is strange to me, and I don’t enjoy not understanding what the whole point of her telling this story actually was. Maybe this is a weird thing for me to be annoyed by, but it really turned the book into one that I just couldn’t fall in love with.
So. I was definitely interested in parts of Greetings from Utopia Park, but overall the book did not thrill me. I’m not sure if I’d read more from this author, but I’m glad I got the chance to learn about a faith practice that I had no previous knowledge about before picking up the book.