Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Great Oom, Robert Love

I know a lot, but not enough about P.A. Bernard, the subject of this biography, The GReat Oom, to wish I had written it and to know I couldn't have done all the research the author did, nor could i have written such a breezy, celebrity mad version of the story. The subtitle is "The Improbably Birth of Yoga in America." It is a book that needed to be written so I'm happy it exists and I'm happy Love did so much research. I'm unhappy he believed everything he read and did not check the accuracy of many things he wrote. He is not a scholar and I would have preferred a scholar's approach. But then yoga in America has become as complex, as full of pretense and misrepresentation as was Bernard. He was a fabulous man and built an amazing empire for it's brief day in the sun. He and his wife [who is given short shrift, I feel] trained most of the earliest yoga teachers in America. The story is very worth reading.

My point of view was honed by learning of Bernard from one of his earliest devotees who gave a sizable portion of her inheritance to the man. When I knew her in the last ten years of her life, she had become the executor of what remained of the once vast estate. She put together much of the archives from which Love took information. But by that time her view of both man and the many events described in this book was very considered and, I feel, reasonably balanced in a way that Love's view is not. I will not say here which of the various devotees Love writes about she was because that is irrelevant. She told me some stories about the place and her own participation that I think she shared with only a handful of other people. So it was that I read the book with a critical eye and made various marginal notes, many simply "No" because Love leaps to conclusions that are on the sensationalistic side and inaccurate.

But my main criticism is that this reads like a celebrity bio written by a PR person who choose to ignore psychological depth. Bernard was a complex man, very much an American of his time and yet a totally unique individual. I've thought a great deal about him over the years since I began to hear his story; I learned things I didn't knowkfrom Love's book and I'm sure I'll recommend it to many people -- with my own quirty reservations.


standing on my head said...

i read your review, and ended thinking, i want to read this. i walked into my local library, and there it was, on the new arrivals shelf!
don't you just love synchronicity?

June Calender said...

yes, I didn't expect to find it when I went into my local Borders and there it was. I've love to know your reaction when you're read it.