10 Apr Book review
Marek Zákopčan: Authentic story of a world cult member.
Authentic stories based on real life experiences enjoy are quite popular among readers nowadays. Some perceive the stories as a way to understand better the various aspects of modern society, others see them as an inspiration how learn from other people’s mistakes and how to avoid them. Most of these narratives come (to Slovakia) from abroad, while they mostly deal with the second world war. Not so often do we come across a rare and unique content. Such is the case of „ With an Elephant on his Shoulders “. This is a new autobiographical novel of a native Slovak, Dušan Štraus, who had spent an unbelievable period of 23 years in a worldwide cult. The book is due to be published in no time by Ikar publishing house and you can look forward to discovering the background and practices of Sri Chinmoy.
„The dark past is over, it cannot return. Now he no longer fills his inner space with impurity. On the contrary, he must do his best to keep it in clear consciousness, so that it can receive Guru’s light. Only then will he be able to make real progress in his life. He went through the ‚Manual of Disciples ‘, looking for the section ‚How to interact with undesirable people. There it was on the paper. He needs to move away from the unfriendly forces, unpure people, among which his own wife definitely belongs, as he had already convinced himself this morning. Otherwise, she would drag him back in the mud, where he had always been. Unhappy and dissatisfied. “
The cult controls the spiritual development of the protagonist completely, at the expense of family life.
The story starts brusquely, in media res. Readers are introduced to the 30-year-old Viktor Pergner, who is already member of the cult in control of his spiritual growth. This is only the beginning, as shown by the reaction of Viktor’s wife, Libuše, an important and integral part of the whole story. Based on the husband-wife relationship (or rather the issues that are dealt with) Dušan Štraus demonstrates the cult power and its ability to perfectly control the mind of its members. The gradual, yet intensive shift towards the cult slogans and teachings are causing suffering of Viktor’s closest ones. At first, Libuše doesn’t perceive her husband’s passion for meditation and intensive sport activities as a threat, as personal growth is a welcome part of life. However, when the Center starts demanding Viktor’s absolute attention and because of it Viktor neglects his wife and son, their family life starts to crack. The path, that Viktor embarked upon, is, however, too tempting and is bringing him big success, that he could not give it up for a person, whom, according to his perception, is going to rid him of his pure soul.
Viktor has managed to work his way gradually to the leading position of the disciples of the Sri Chinmoy Center in Slovakia and he becomes the general manager of the divine company Madadal. Moreover, he takes part in arranging meetings of his Guru with worldwide personalities. Among these personages are Slovak president Michal Kováč. Even more interesting is the depiction of the effort to bring Guru onto the list artists nominated for the Nobel prize.
Practices and methods of acquiring followers around the world.
I must confess that I have not heard of Sri Chinmoy and his fame prior to reading „With an Elephant on his Back “. Perhaps because Guru passed away 15 years ago, and it is not easy to preserve his teachings without the presence of the master himself. Therefore, the practices and methods in acquiring followers around the world – from the U.S., across Europe and in Asia, are even more interesting for me to read.
The Center connects traders, businesspeople, politicians, artists and other professions regardless of their origin, race or belief. Dušan Štraus belonged among the strongly devoted members, however, the book is not simply retelling his own story. The author works very cleverly with composition and alternating timelines. Retrospective insights into the past clarify the present time in the book and often create functional contrast.
As a result, the story gains complexity and clearly illustrates the personal development of the main protagonist over the course of two decades.
„When tea was served (only Viktor could not resist ordering coffee), the ex-president studied the leaflet. Silence set in, loaded with expectation. Viktor took a chance to look at the photos on the office walls. Michal Kováč was on all of them, along with other heads of states and John Pope II. But why was there no picture with Guru, the spiritual leader with worldwide reputation? None of the other personalities could live up to him! The ex-president was perhaps influenced by the unfavorable articles in media. “
Manipulative cult practices firsthand.
The uniqueness of this book stems from the vivid description of manipulative tactics of the cult, based on first-hand experience. You will meet a wide variety of characters, while the story will let you guess why they had surrendered to the lure of uplifting words about the promise of a better spiritual life. Disciples had to follow strict rules, among others they had to give up physical pleasures. This was one of the ways how Guru ensured total obedience.
Through his alter-ego, Viktor, Dušan Štraus depicts the relationships between the cult members, which then led to expulsion or to the frustrating break-ups, followed by punishment.
I like the fact that the ending of the novel deals with Viktor’s attempt to return to normal life. Whoever thinks this is an easy and quick process, is deeply mistaken…
„ With an Elephant on his Shoulders “ is a unique novel, which is missing on our (Slovak) market. I believe that readers will learn as well as be amused. Hopefully the book will be of support for those who are struggling with uncertainties and doubt nowadays and are prone to fall victim to those with „higher power “.
Marek Zákopčan (* June 23, 1986, Banská Bystrica) is a Slovak writer
He belongs to the youngest writer in IKAR publishing house and has published four books. His writing style is light but with a sense of suspension. Aside from book writing, he creates critical review for „Knižní revue “.
Marek Zákopčan edited „ With an Elephant on his Shoulders “ for IKAR.