Journey to Ithaca is a story about seeking, the all-consuming urge to go on a pilgrimage, in the hope of finding spiritual realisation; the seeker wanting only a spiritual union with a greater spirit or truth. Another novel, another journey In his boyhood, Matteo is drawn to the spirituality of the East. Frail in health and subject to frequent bullying in school, he is tutored at home. Sophie who accompanies Matteo, is at first dazzled by India, by the flower children, and their lives of easy freedom. However, the bitter truth about them soon dawns on Sophie as Desai dispassionately describes their cunning ways, and how they sponge off each other. Yet she cannot bring herself to abandon Matteo, though she is left increasingly puzzled and then angry by this elusive search.
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In the modern world, Ithaca is an island located in the Ionian Sea, in Greece. Ithaca is also the title of a poem written in by Constantine P. The poem is a long one, but here are some excerpts….. To arrive there is your final destination. But do not hurry the voyage at all. It is better for it to last many years. Ithaca has given you the beautiful journey.
Without her, you would not have set out on the road. Nothing more does she have to give you. And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you. Wise as you have become, with so much experience, You must already have understood what Ithacas mean. Through the poem, the author encourages us to enjoy this journey while it lasts, for it is all that a traveller can ask for. They arrive in India, like so many others, and explore the scene, travelling from ashram to ashram in search of something they have no idea of, just a belief that they will find it someday….
Sophie accompanies Matteo out of curiosity and rebellion, and is quickly disgusted to realize that the India she finds is not the India she expected to find.
This is the other part of the book — the journey which transforms Laila into Lila, and eventually, The Mother. The book is not easy to read. In fact, I had a hard time when I began, and had to try hard to not give up. We might complain about the mess our country is, ourselves, but it is certainly not easy to read an honest, unflattering description, especially when we know it is all true. The story soon turns to the eternal clash, with Matteo devoted to the Mother, and Sophie growing jealous.
This is where the story gets interesting, with Sophie finding herself just as restless and disenchanted with Europe as she was disgusted with India.
And it is in this journey that Anita Desai shows her mettle, showing us Laila through long forgotten memories and pages in old, decaying diaries. The words leap out of the pages, bringing Laila to life, even as Sophie traces the path she took, ages ago. Yet, this is very much a book about misunderstandings. Among its virtues is that it manages to convey all the innocence and confusion of the seekers from the West and all the hirsute and mundane spirituality of India, without being beguiled by either — Desai takes sides neither with one nor the other of the two cultures.
The views expressed are my own.
Journey to Ithaca
Shortly after their marriage, they moved to New Delhi, where Desai was raised up with her two elder sisters and brother. She also spoke Bengali, Urdu and English out of her house. She first learned to read and write in English at school and as a result, English became her "literary language". She began to write in English at the age of seven and published her first story at the age of nine. The following year she married Ashvin Desai, the director of a computer software company and author of the book Between Eternities: Ideas on Life and The Cosmos. In she collaborated with P.
Although the exact time frame of the main story is deliberately unclear, it seems to start in the s and take us into the s. Chapter 3 takes place in the s as we follow Laila later known as the Mother from her roots in Cairo on her travels to Europe and America. At the time of the framework story Matteo is seriously ill in the hospital in India and each section before chapter 4 starts with Sophie visiting Matteo. Matteo is deep under the influence of his German tutor Fabian who introduced him to Herman Hesse and he is longing to travel east on a spiritual quest. Some spiritual teacher in Bombay leads them on a horrific pilgrimage where they witness the death of a child which turns her off for good. They enter a dismal ashram in Haridwar where Sophie hates the routine and the miserable life style while Matteo takes it all as punishment.