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Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss: A Novel…

Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss: A Novel (edition 2019)

by Rajeev Balasubramanyam (Author)

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9335194,020 (3.68)6
Title:Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss: A Novel
Authors:Rajeev Balasubramanyam (Author)
Info:The Dial Press (2019), 368 pages
Collections:Your library

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Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev Balasubramanyam



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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Please pardon my negative tone, I just found this book to be rather problematic. For the first third of this book, I was really enjoying it. The author did an excellent job of drawing out a few characters. The main character was developed well and resonated for me. But come about page 75 or 80, it all fell apart for me. My problems came in four main categories...

A.) The author's writing of dialogue left a lot to be desired. Professor Chandra was really interesting to me until he started opening his mouth. There is no way a Cambridge professor who is line for the Nobel Prize would sound like the way he is written.

B.) The actions of the characters often seem unbelievable. The author did not get me to a point where I believed that Professor Chandra would be responsive to the teachings at Esalen. There was a disconnect for me. I understood the professor who is forever disappointed in his life and work and buries himself in his work. The desperation around trying to reconnect with your children felt so real. But, that couldn't take to me to a place where I believed this elitist professor would open up in such an odd way.This was true with other characters as well and resulted in a big lose of credibility in my mind.

C.) In the end, I was not sure what the author was trying to do. If this were intended to be a story about the difficulties of a family torn apart trying to make sense, it was mediocre, but passable. If it were a story about the power of meditation and spiritualism, as it seems to be, then I am even more disappointed. Some of my favorite authors have written archetypal characters to make a broader point. But, there wasn't a strong enough point to make that work here.

D.) Lastly, the meditation and group work scenes were quite bad for me. Without them, this story would rate a star or two higher. These were supposed to be central to the book. But, the idea that these absurdly superficial conversations masquerading as "deep" would result in big change just makes me roll my eyes. I am sure breakthroughs have occurred in the types of sessions mentioned, but they way they are drawn up here makes me cringe. It felt like exactly the kind of experience that everyone thinks is transformative, but that changes no one.

In the end, it all just seemed pithy and easy.

Anyway, I didn't hate this book. I actually quite enjoyed some of the bits about dealing with your exes and what impact parents have on their children. I would love to see this author dig into more of that space. There is some great writing around the interactions with the Professor's children.

I really wish I could have liked this more. But, for me, I found it to be a less than convincing story that was told through hollow characters and was both too vague and too narrow. ( )
1 vote bas615 | Jun 2, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I'm not sure what bliss Professor Chandra is following, or how he's following it, but he's an interesting guy to read about. A distinguished professor of economics, has just been denied the Nobel Prize (again), he is hit by a bicycle and suffers a heart attack, forcing him to take a break, under doctor's orders. And he does try. He tries to reconnect with his children, and attends a mindfulness retreat. He learns a lot about himself, and his children, but I didn't really see where the bliss comes in, since he's mostly just as conflicted at the end as he is in the beginning, if a bit gentler about it.

Bliss, not so much, but Chandra himself does come to understand and accept a lot about himself and his past mistakes. His journey, with all its missteps and imperfections, is very believable, and you'll find yourself rooting for Chandra to find a way, not to bliss, but to more happiness. Or maybe just contentment? Or self-awareness? Whatever he's on the path to, it's an enjoyable journey, for the reader, at least.

One thing that really stood out to me is the very subtle way that Balasubramanyam points out the ways in which Chandra was a terrible father. His casual cruelties to his children are reported as straight facts; there is no extended narrative exposition explaining the effects of his words, allowing readers to make their own judgments without interference. This is a mark of a good author, one who truly shows, rather than tells, and he does this with aplomb throughout the book. ( )
  mzonderm | May 21, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Rating: 5/5 Stars

The novel, "Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss" centers on Professor Chandra, a world renowned economist who narrowly misses out on winning the nobel prize at the beginning of the story. His life has been focused on his work, and as a result he is a divorced father of three who spends his days as a professor at Cambridge with little regard for things other than economics. When his world is turned upside down by a bicycle accident, he is forced to take a vacation which ultimately becomes a life altering journey.

This book was simply sensational! Author Rajeev Balasubramanyam's writing was witty and precise. He developed Chandra's character perfectly through intra personal communication and short snippets of banter between characters. Chandra's thoughts had me laughing, smiling and hoping for a happy ending for the main character.

The book explores Chandra's relationships with all of the people around him. Of those relationships, the one that I found the most interesting was that between Chandra and his eldest daughter, Radha. Chandra spends the majority of the story estranged from her and the author uses a unilateral approach to dissect their relationship. As the anticipation builds throughout the story, the question remains of whether or not the two will reconcile.

At the beginning of the story, it is clear that Chandra has a lot of room for personal growth and his relationships with his children are in desperate need of repair. This story will weave its way into the hearts of readers with charming characters and fantastic prose. Following along with Chandra on this self-improvement journey was a wonderful experience.

Recommendation: I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys fiction, family and the occasional snarky comment. ( )
  ErinPasquale | Apr 28, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Professor Chandra has had a successful career as an economist, the Nobel Prize being the only goal that has eluded him. Yet with his own family he feels a failure. His wife left him for another man. His three children are estranged, his eldest daughter even keeping her whereabouts a secret from him. And so when Professor Chandra decides to follow his bliss in Rajeev Balasubramanyam's novel “Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss,” it is his family, not the Nobel Prize, that he pursues.

His pilgrimage takes him around the world, for his family is scattered. He finds himself in a variety of Eastern religion/New Age situations, including one in India where his own son, spouting "wisdom" that seems like nonsense to Chandra, is the featured guru. Yet the novel's conclusion comes during the family's Christmas reunion in Colorado, thus giving Christianity a share in this odd spirituality mixture.

"He was helpless in most places save universities," Balasubramanyam says of Chandra. Certainly that seems true during the course of the story. He knows little about popular culture. His conversations with other people are awkward. He often offends without meaning to. Yet with his own family he is most helpless of all. Gradually he discovers what he has been doing wrong all these years and, most importantly, that his family, including the former wife now married to someone else, loves him still. And there he finds his bliss.

There is much to like about this novel. It is comic without being funny, serious without being tragic, easy reading without being simple. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Apr 22, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is funny, insightful, and the main protagonist, Professor Chandra (short for Chandrasekhar), is one of the most endearing, albeit curmudgeonly, characters I have encountered all year.

Chandra, 69, is an emeritus professor of economics at Cambridge in London. He considers himself the foremost trade economist in the world and fully expects to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2016; he is devastated when he is passed over. In his distraction after finding out the bad news, he walked into an oncoming bicycle while crossing the street and ended up in the hospital. Furthermore, as his doctor told Chandra, he had suffered a silent heart attack. The doctor advised him to take at least two months off from work. He suggested Chandra eat healthier foods, exercise, and relax: “You gotta follow your bliss, man. That’s all there is to it.” (The doctor was from California.)

Chandra decided to go to Los Angeles, for three reasons: it was warm; it was near his youngest daughter Jasmine who lived with Chandra’s ex-wife Jean and her new husband Steve in Colorado; and he could get a visiting professorship in Orange County.

Jean left the marriage because felt she and the children were invisible to Chandra - he was obsessed with work. All his children were alienated from him in some way or another as well. Sunny, the oldest, lived in Hong Kong and saw his father as a rival. His oldest daughter Radha once said to him, accusingly: “God forbid you actually notice anyone else’s existence, or listen to anyone, or give a shit about anyone except yourself and your oh-so-important career.”

Jasmine was uncommunicative and had developed a predilection for taking drugs. She explained to her dad, “I’m the only one who isn’t anything. . . . Sunny’s trying to be you. Radha’s trying to be your opposite. Me, I’m not anything. I’m not like you. I’m not like Mum. I’m just nothing.” In addition, her grades, something her father always harped about, are bad and she feels like a failure.

Jean later confessed to Chandra that she felt the same throughout most of her life - just drifting. She faked a fondness for what everyone else liked, without any awareness of what she herself wanted.

Since his accident, Chandra can relate to all of it:

“And now he was a year away from being seventy and had set not only the department but the world on fire, and yet he could not shake the feeling that he had squandered his years, drained them of all that was worthwhile. Fun! Joy! Laughter! Play! The same qualities he had so derided in his colleagues, even in his children.”

Or as someone pointed out to him that biologist George Wald, who had won the Novel fifty years earlier, had said:

“What one really needs is not Nobel laureates but love. How do you think one gets to be a Nobel laureate? Wanting love, that’s how. Wanting it so bad that one works all the time and ends up a Nobel laureate. It’s a consolation prize. What matters is love.”

Chandra goes to Boulder, Colorado for Jasmine’s high school graduation and party at Jean’s house in Boulder. Jean is now married to Steve Benowitz, a child psychiatrist and an annoying ex-hippie that no one likes but Jean. During a confrontation between Chandra and Steve over Jasmine's taking drugs, Chandra punches Steve in the nose. Afterwards, out of revenge, Steve pressures Chandra into taking a course everyone thought Chandra would hate, “Being Yourself in the Summer Solstice,” at California’s Esalen Institute. Chandra agrees because anything would have been worth it to punch Steve. It made him feel giddy, alive: “I’m doing it,” he thought. “I’m following my bliss.”

At the Institute, which Chandra refers as “the Technicolor Funny Farm” (flowers in vivid hues were everywhere), he confronts his fears and inner demons, and against all of his expectations, actually learns a lot about himself. His instructor, Rudi Katz, encourages the participants to explore the negative beliefs they internalized and then projected onto others.

As Chandra thought about it, he became cognizant that it was his father’s voice he heard all the time in his head, calling him stupid, pathetic, lazy, idiotic, etc. He realized he had called Sunny those names, and had spoken to him with a similar contempt. In essence, he was parroting the criticisms his own father made about him so many years before. When he spoke about his fear that he had made Jasmine feel bad about herself, one of the participants who was around the same age as Jasmine pointed out to him he has judged his kids by his own standards but “She’s not you.” Moreover, even now, she said to him, Chandra was making everything about him instead of trying to see and hear others:

“You are self-important, superior, and pompous. You think everything is about you. You never listen, and you don’t get women. You think you know everything. You think you’re right all the time.”

Meanwhile, Jasmine got arrested for drug use and Chandra was able to get her admitted to Cove Zen Center for rehab, run by a woman he met at Esalen, Dolores Blum. [This fictional zen center was probably modeled after Deer Park Monastery, a 400-acre sanctuary in California which the author mentioned in the Acknowledgments. He wrote that he also spent time at Esalen and other zen centers.]

The story ends at Christmas time, after Chandra has turned 70. Jasmine had invited everyone in the family to the Cove Zen Center in Colorado. There Chandra discovered that escaping old negative patterns is harder than he would have thought, but at least now he is self-aware. And they all benefited from a message etched in wood at the center:

“Let me respectfully remind you, Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken! Take heed! Do not squander your life.”

Evaluation: There is so much I appreciated about this story. For one thing, while there are many messages about “finding your bliss,” they are so deftly woven into the story and couched in so much humor that one never feels lectured at. Secondly, I loved the realistic look into “self help” and “self improvement.” Psychologists cite two main reasons there are so many self-help books on the market [known in the business as “shelf-help”]. One is that many people want to better their lives, and the other is that the books rarely work, so consumers are always looking for the next, best fix. The author honestly acknowledges and addresses the difficulties with changing, and evinces compassion for the situation. Finally, Chandra and his family, with all their flaws, are so charming and consummately human, I found them irresistible. ( )
  nbmars | Apr 17, 2019 |
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