In this engrossing, provocative, and intimate memoir, a young 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's alcoholic father abandons his family, his desperate wife, Liz, tells five-year-old Claire 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 just as their family fell apart.
At first this secluded utopia offers warmth and support and makes these outsiders feel calm, secure, and connected to the world. At the Maharishi School, Claire learns Maharishi's philosophy for living and meditates with her class. With the promise of peace and enlightenment constantly on the horizon, every day is infused with magic and meaning.
But as Claire and Stacey mature, their adolescent skepticism kicks in, drawing them away from the community and into delinquency and drugs. To save herself, Claire moves to California with her father and breaks from Maharishi completely. After a decade of working in journalism and academia, the challenges of adulthood propel her back to Iowa, where she reexamines her spiritual upbringing and tries to reconnect with the magic of her childhood.
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.
©2016 Claire Hoffman (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers
This is my favorite kind of memoir. The ones that feel like getting to know a new friend, with frequent shocks of recognition, and plenty of memories from my own life bubbling up to the surface.
It's a story about being raised in a community based on the teachings of a spiritual guru, but the dynamics will be familiar to anyone who has been immersed in a fundamentalist worldview. Instead of mocking the true believers from her childhood, Claire Hoffman allows us to see the absurdity of their loyalty and deference without losing sight of their humanity. It's written with respect, restraint, and tenderness.
In large part, it feels like an adult child's love letter to her mother. There is something so universal and relatable about doing the best we can as parents. Every decision her mother makes along the way is fueled by hope for a better life — even a better world. She's a devoted, earnest, and warm character who can't afford not to believe. I was on her side throughout. And being equally on Claire's side never felt like a contradiction. It revealed the complexity of parenting, growing up, and individuation.
There's not a shred of naïveté in this memoir, but there's not any bitterness either. This can't be by accident. What a gift it is to get glimpses of someone losing her faith in unquestioned authority and absolute answers growing to embrace the messiness of real life with enthusiasm, humility, and kindness.
The quality of Arndt's voice is perfect for this book. I heard Hoffman on the radio before listening to her book and I really felt as though I was listening to the author read her own work. Fascinating and surprising subject matter delivered in a calm, measured way. The narrator's voice embodies the subject matter brilliantly. And calmly.
Whether you know a little or a lot about the TM movement, you will enjoy this story. Realty that reads like brilliant fiction with deep meaning about life and all it's unexpected, but fascinating twists and turns. The writing is wonderful as is the narration.
This is the book Aaron Paul's character from "The Path" on Hulu would write if he were a journalist. The author does a really great job describing her dichotomous feelings of belief and disbelief. It's what many of us probably feel but are afraid to admit when it comes to our purpose and faith. Overall, it was a great listen and definitely captured my attention so much so that I was able to compete it in a day.
Great book, well read, interesting topic, Talked to a TM instructor last year, but it was over a 1000 dollars. So I like the topic, makes me think of the tunnel we all look through. Fun.
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