on 13 August 2005
Matteo and Caroline were both brought up in Italy. Caroline was sent to a convent school in Milan and Matteo to a school in Turin which had been recommended by his uncle. However Matteo performed very poorly: he was bad at maths, could not sing and played football in a disastrous way so that he was constantly bullied by his classmates. Finally his parents decided to take him back home and they found a tutor, Fabian, for his education. But he remained a rebellious student, learning nothing, eating nothing. Whenever his father talked to him about a career in banking or in the family silk business, Matteo would simply smile faintly. Finally in the summer of 1975, he married Sophie, the daughter of a German banker and together they left for India taking with them Matteo's much beloved copy of Hermann Hesse's "The Journey to the East".
In Bombay they met Pierre Eduard who took them to an elderly woman who performed a few tricks as a form of worship to the glory of Shiva. Whilst Sophie remained unimpressed with what she called "party tricks", Matteo on the other hand was quite transfixed by what he had seen. Later they met Mr Pandey, a "deus ex machina" as Sophie called him in her exasperation, who suggested that they go and live in an ashram. After that Matteo came up with the idea that they replicate the journey which a famous saint had undertaken on foot to a shrine where he obtained enlightenment. But Sophie could not share Matteo's enthusiasm about searching for "the mystery that is the heart of India" during the exhausting expedition and even after such a short time spent in the country, she had no doubt that it was a culture to which she would never belong. Matteo on the other hand was literally seized by madness with his quest for the "devine light" despite the warnings that "the gods are destructive in this country". Will Matteo's studying with a swami at a distant ashram help him recover his senses? Will Matteo and Sophie go through this adventure together and recover their love?
Mrs Desai shows hard and driven people in her novel, the mutual contempt of a wife and a husband, the rejection foreigners may experience in India and also a man deluding himself in an impossible quest. Perhaps the author's other novels like "Baumgartner's Bombay" or "In Custody" are more accessible, less obscure.