Days of our Lives!

August 11, 2012

Book Review: In the Hot Unconscious – Charles Foster

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 7:26 PM
Book: In the Hot Unconscious
Author: Charles Foster
Genre: Travel, Religion, Philosophy

The book cover and the general internet have slotted this as a Travel book. Westland seems to think this is Fiction. I can confirm that it’s neither. The setting of the book is the time Charles Foster spent in India to research on leeches, and the content of the book is about some of his days, generously interspersed with religious discourse, philosophical wry observations, and bits of intermittent irrelevant unintelligible babble (at least to me).

It was a very slow and heavy start to the book, with needlessly big worded phrases and long-winded sentences. Without trying to be modest here, it’s rare that I have need to refer a dictionary when reading. This book forced me to on more than one occasion. But once you get used to the writing, you start to appreciate what Foster is trying here.

The impressions about India are given in a very matter-of-fact way and act more like incidental backdrops than the usual firang-in-town travel book that ends up playing in cliches. Foster comes across much better and, given the months he’s spent in India and his more mature world views on culture, religion and differences, his writing feels more local than alien. Of course, there is the jeans clad sadhu, the puffed-up American lady, the red-tape and bureaucracy, the public urination, the floating carcass, and the “I wiped the glasses, which had fallen into the open gutter, with a piece of newspaper with an article on wife-beating…“. However, the story being woven is much deeper, more ambitious and entirely different to the usual linear travelogue.

The book requires serious time to be devoted to it and is definitely not one of those quick reads. At places, the narrative gets quite heavy and dry and requires the will and curiosity to follow through. Cynical at large and witty in the dry humour way, Foster ensures the book keeps moving at a decent pace between the larger intentions of the book. Where the book worked for me was in the religion part. Evidently well-read and passionate on the topic, Foster carries us along in his expositions, dissertations and cerebrations. Illustrating the extremities in the underlying philosophies between the West and the East, articulating quite deeply about the ways, means and entities that Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and Zen can contribute to each other (especially the Trains and Myths chapter), Foster’s quest to discover his own spiritual essence by embracing India’s emphasis on the Unconscious is quite a journey.

My Rating: 3/5

Note: This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at


1 Comment »

  1. Here is my review of the book:

    Comment by Anuradha Goyal — October 11, 2012 @ 10:26 PM | Reply

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