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Better to Have Gone: Love, Death, and the Quest for Utopia in Auroville

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* A New York Times Editors’ Choice * A spellbinding story about love, faith, the search for utopia—and the often devastating cost of idealism. It’s the late 1960s, and two lovers converge on an arid patch of earth in South India. John Walker is the handsome scion of a powerful East Coast American family. Diane Maes is a beautiful hippie from Belgium. They have come to build * A New York Times Editors’ Choice * A spellbinding story about love, faith, the search for utopia—and the often devastating cost of idealism. It’s the late 1960s, and two lovers converge on an arid patch of earth in South India. John Walker is the handsome scion of a powerful East Coast American family. Diane Maes is a beautiful hippie from Belgium. They have come to build a new world—Auroville, an international utopian community for thousands of people. Their faith is strong, the future bright. So how do John and Diane end up dying two decades later, on the same day, on a cracked concrete floor in a thatch hut by a remote canyon? This is the mystery Akash Kapur sets out to solve in Better to Have Gone, and it carries deep personal resonance: Diane and John were the parents of Akash’s wife, Auralice. Akash and Auralice grew up in Auroville; like the rest of their community, they never really understood those deaths. In 2004, Akash and Auralice return to Auroville from New York, where they have been living with John’s family. As they reestablish themselves, along with their two sons, in the community, they must confront the ghosts of those distant deaths. Slowly, they come to understand how the tragic individual fates of John and Diane intersected with the collective history of their town. Better to Have Gone is a book about the human cost of our age-old quest for a more perfect world. It probes the underexplored yet universal idea of utopia, and it portrays in vivid detail the daily life of one utopian community. Richly atmospheric and filled with remarkable characters, spread across time and continents, this is narrative writing of the highest order—a heartbreaking, unforgettable story.


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* A New York Times Editors’ Choice * A spellbinding story about love, faith, the search for utopia—and the often devastating cost of idealism. It’s the late 1960s, and two lovers converge on an arid patch of earth in South India. John Walker is the handsome scion of a powerful East Coast American family. Diane Maes is a beautiful hippie from Belgium. They have come to build * A New York Times Editors’ Choice * A spellbinding story about love, faith, the search for utopia—and the often devastating cost of idealism. It’s the late 1960s, and two lovers converge on an arid patch of earth in South India. John Walker is the handsome scion of a powerful East Coast American family. Diane Maes is a beautiful hippie from Belgium. They have come to build a new world—Auroville, an international utopian community for thousands of people. Their faith is strong, the future bright. So how do John and Diane end up dying two decades later, on the same day, on a cracked concrete floor in a thatch hut by a remote canyon? This is the mystery Akash Kapur sets out to solve in Better to Have Gone, and it carries deep personal resonance: Diane and John were the parents of Akash’s wife, Auralice. Akash and Auralice grew up in Auroville; like the rest of their community, they never really understood those deaths. In 2004, Akash and Auralice return to Auroville from New York, where they have been living with John’s family. As they reestablish themselves, along with their two sons, in the community, they must confront the ghosts of those distant deaths. Slowly, they come to understand how the tragic individual fates of John and Diane intersected with the collective history of their town. Better to Have Gone is a book about the human cost of our age-old quest for a more perfect world. It probes the underexplored yet universal idea of utopia, and it portrays in vivid detail the daily life of one utopian community. Richly atmospheric and filled with remarkable characters, spread across time and continents, this is narrative writing of the highest order—a heartbreaking, unforgettable story.

30 review for Better to Have Gone: Love, Death, and the Quest for Utopia in Auroville

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lisa of Troy

    Better to Have Gone is a non-fiction book about a village in India called Auroville. In 1968, the village was founded, and it was a barren land where people from around the world gathered in hopes to create a better society. The Aurovilians are a hard working people with incredible grit and determination. Working together and through much sacrifice, they transform the barren, parched earth into a flourishing forest complete with new animal wildlife. The members work hard each day in the belief t Better to Have Gone is a non-fiction book about a village in India called Auroville. In 1968, the village was founded, and it was a barren land where people from around the world gathered in hopes to create a better society. The Aurovilians are a hard working people with incredible grit and determination. Working together and through much sacrifice, they transform the barren, parched earth into a flourishing forest complete with new animal wildlife. The members work hard each day in the belief that they are making the world a better place and dig deep spiritually through the practice of yoga. However, all utopians are not perfect. Two members of the community end up dead. What led up to their deaths? This book was extremely interesting especially as a non-fiction work which is bound by a certain set of facts. It was like Dune, Jonestown, and a mystery all rolled into one! It was written in a way which was really intriguing, and I wanted to know more. It also spoke about the environment and working for a cause greater than oneself. Especially in these turbulent times, it is easy to imagine how people would be attracted to a quest for deeper meaning and making a real difference in the world. Previously, I had never heard about Auroville so this work was truly unique. It is incredible how so much has been accomplished in terms of enhancing the environment as well as constructing the village. The author was very articulate, and it was clear that he spent a great deal of time researching this book. He also had a number of photographs in the book as well which were a real delight. There were also some great quotes that I would love to share upon final publication. Overall, this is an amazing non-fiction book that you should read especially if you love Dune and/or Jonestown. *Thank you, NetGalley, for a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest opinion.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Irene

    Auroville was founded in 1968 in India as an international utopian community. The author and his wife grew up in this community, but their experiences were very different. When his wife was 14, her mother and foster father died hours apart. What caused the deaths of these long term members and true believers of this idealistic project? In this memoir of a community and a family, the author uncovers the story of a utopian adventure and of two of its most ardent spiritual devotees. 3.5 stars

  3. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    There’s a quote in the book that says something like, “utopias are a glass that’s half full and half empty.” Their initial ideals are almost always admirable, but simply due to human nature, they always seem to go awry. When you add some mysticism (fanaticism?) to the mix, what could go wrong? I was interested in this book because I’m intrigued by the question of why people find faith and unquestioning belief in unproven or eminently questionable idols and ideals. The book offers no clues other t There’s a quote in the book that says something like, “utopias are a glass that’s half full and half empty.” Their initial ideals are almost always admirable, but simply due to human nature, they always seem to go awry. When you add some mysticism (fanaticism?) to the mix, what could go wrong? I was interested in this book because I’m intrigued by the question of why people find faith and unquestioning belief in unproven or eminently questionable idols and ideals. The book offers no clues other than to say that some people really want to believe in someone or something, probably to give their life meaning or fill a void, and there’s really no explaining why. I understand why John and Diane might want to remove themselves from a harried, materialistic society to lead a simpler commune-with-the-land type of existence, but I still don’t understand how they could believe so unwaveringly in The Mother and then, disastrously, in her follow up guru, Satprem. How (and why) do some people walk into a room, sit in someone’s presence for 3 minutes and then make the leap to accepting that person as a divine conduit? And how (and why?) do they continue to believe even when their health and lives are at risk? I was continuously bothered by Auroville’s eschewing of money and materialism while excepting money from John’s family fund. This was most salient when John was building Ravenna and simultaneously castigating his father for his extreme materialism while asking him for more funds as the project runs over budget. If you’re completely against materialism, I guess you better stay in your grass hut. The fact that the author, Akash Kapur, has a personal relationship to Auroville makes the investigation into its formation and into John and Diane’s deaths more interesting. He does an admirable job of piecing together events and includes perspectives from other community members. The book is well done, but I’m still shaking my head in confusion as to how any Auroville continues to exist.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Umar Lee

    Decently written. Not a very interesting subject matter. It must really suck to be white and wealthy and have a saviors mentality. Pro-tip: all effective cults and communes will seek to monopolize sex and money so you'd be better off developing a gamblers habit and joining a swingers club. There has never been and will never be utopia on this Earth and as this book once again illustrates the pursuit of such more closely resembles the creation of Hell. Decently written. Not a very interesting subject matter. It must really suck to be white and wealthy and have a saviors mentality. Pro-tip: all effective cults and communes will seek to monopolize sex and money so you'd be better off developing a gamblers habit and joining a swingers club. There has never been and will never be utopia on this Earth and as this book once again illustrates the pursuit of such more closely resembles the creation of Hell.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Miya

    I have always been interested in learning about different communities and cult type topics. The Farm and Auroville have been ones that I have been intrigued by, so i was super excited to read this. I don't know why it fascinates me to see how things work in these places. It seems so much goes wrong even when intending for the exact opposite.. I have always been interested in learning about different communities and cult type topics. The Farm and Auroville have been ones that I have been intrigued by, so i was super excited to read this. I don't know why it fascinates me to see how things work in these places. It seems so much goes wrong even when intending for the exact opposite..

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sakun Sambanthan

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Firstly, having lived in Pondicherry in 2003 & 2004, I was privy to the very real drama between Ashramites (residence of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram) & Aurovillians. Although much tapered by that time, that energy of distrust was still there in the air. Many things stood out for me in this book - I'd often wondered how the Ashram & its connected entities would flourish after the passing on of its founding members namely the Mother and this book address the challenge. The details of what happened righ Firstly, having lived in Pondicherry in 2003 & 2004, I was privy to the very real drama between Ashramites (residence of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram) & Aurovillians. Although much tapered by that time, that energy of distrust was still there in the air. Many things stood out for me in this book - I'd often wondered how the Ashram & its connected entities would flourish after the passing on of its founding members namely the Mother and this book address the challenge. The details of what happened right before her passing and Satprem's influence over Auroville was eye opening. - John sounds like a remarkable character even before having any contact with Auroville so that's a testament to his true being. He became too much of an extremist at the end. Life is all about balance. But as one of John's friends said this was a choice he made & he lived with those consequences. - Diane comes across as a narcissist. Her lack of responsibility over her children and choosing the cowards way out at the end doesn't redeem herself to making sacrifices. - Auralice is a tastemet to the spirit of resilience. I'm amazed at how others within the community came through for her. That is the epitomy of people trying to demonstrate the utopian spirit. I throughly enjoyed this book. Absolutely thought provoking. There were times I had to pause and process my thoughts. But honestly the spiritual path is challenging. And more so in a land like Auroville with its weather conditions and the coming together of people from different cultures trying to live harmoniously. If you're looking for an honest and at times raw account of the very real human struggle for utopia then pick this book up.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Donna M

    This is the story of a modern Utopia largely told through the stories of Diane and John Walker who came to the community during its founding era. Combines anthropology, history and family stories to give a balanced version of Auroville. I do wish the book had an index and photo captions with the pictures. There were times that I wanted to refresh myself on a topic and had to page through. Minor criticism of an extraordinary book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    This is something of a history, something of a memoir. Kapur revisits the history of the utopian community, Auroville, in which he and his wife grew up--and where her mother and stepfather died. There's a lot of what you expect from an intentional community: infighting, dogma. But Kapur's personal connection to the events, and the specific personal narrative of Auralice's parents John and Diane, make this deeper and more affecting. Akash and Auralice ultimately returned to live in Auroville, and This is something of a history, something of a memoir. Kapur revisits the history of the utopian community, Auroville, in which he and his wife grew up--and where her mother and stepfather died. There's a lot of what you expect from an intentional community: infighting, dogma. But Kapur's personal connection to the events, and the specific personal narrative of Auralice's parents John and Diane, make this deeper and more affecting. Akash and Auralice ultimately returned to live in Auroville, and his relationship with the place is loving but complicated. Because you know from the beginning that it ends in tragedy, it feels a little bit like a slow spiral to the inevitable--but is no less interesting or gripping for that. Stylistically my only quibble is with his use of the present tense throughout; it's a little jarring.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Letha

    A well written, autobiographical account of the ashram and it offshoot Auroville. I have visited both places, the Ashram in the 70s when the Mother was still alive and Auroville recently in 2014, both visits just as a curious 'tourist'. I am familiar with Pondicherry and JIPMER (the medical school mentioned often in the book) as my sibling was at JIPMER in the 70s. This book is one (or perhaps two) person(s) personal experiences and views. Credit goes to the author for presenting the story and e A well written, autobiographical account of the ashram and it offshoot Auroville. I have visited both places, the Ashram in the 70s when the Mother was still alive and Auroville recently in 2014, both visits just as a curious 'tourist'. I am familiar with Pondicherry and JIPMER (the medical school mentioned often in the book) as my sibling was at JIPMER in the 70s. This book is one (or perhaps two) person(s) personal experiences and views. Credit goes to the author for presenting the story and events in a fairly non-judgmental manner, especially in the concluding chapters where he tries to present both sides of the coin. It seems to me that the author and his wife are now trying to find meaning in their life post 9/11 and within the context of the myriad of issues currently facing the world. The Auroville I saw in 2014 did not look like any Utopia to me even as a work in progress. But then I am a skeptic. It certainly came across as a tourist attraction both for richer Indians looking for something exotic and continues to draw a spectrum of foreign nationals seeking meaning and truth. I was not aware of the Governments involvement with Auroville and that spells 'bureaucracy' from where I am looking. I was curious enough to check how one joins this 'utopia in progress' and it sounds quite bureaucratic; in its original days, I gather you just went to see Mother and she 'accepted' you based on your 'aura' I believe.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shalini

    On my first visit to Auroville in 1994, I was intrigued by the place and just could not understand what it was all about, especially the obsession with the mother. I liked the incense sticks sold there and visited twice subsequently but was none the wiser. I hoped this book would enlighten me and it did. The story attempts to unravel the mysterious deaths of two Aurovillians, and is a bit of a disappointment when it gets there. As an extreme skeptic, I cannot see the distinction between a religi On my first visit to Auroville in 1994, I was intrigued by the place and just could not understand what it was all about, especially the obsession with the mother. I liked the incense sticks sold there and visited twice subsequently but was none the wiser. I hoped this book would enlighten me and it did. The story attempts to unravel the mysterious deaths of two Aurovillians, and is a bit of a disappointment when it gets there. As an extreme skeptic, I cannot see the distinction between a religion, a cult and a commune. Auroville is all of these and the fact that this was argued in a court is somehow unbelievable. I also wonder how this place garnered so much national and international attention, including that of Indira Gandhi, Tata and UNESCO. Perhaps it was the economic prospect of foreign currency in the India of the 70s and 80s. It is a well written book that demystifies Auroville. It also offers some insight into the minds of those who chose to turn away from modernity and science and hold on desperately to anything, eastern mysticism and yoga in this case, that offers a way out.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Meghan Agresto

    Loved it. For so many reasons. Would have given it a 5.5 stars if I could, but then unfortunately subtracted half a star because my only complaint about this book was that the photographs did not have captions. Even though I knew exactly what the pictures were of it still bothered me. Minor point compared to how much I wanted to talk about this book with everyone near me, my highest compliment. Found it fascinating in part because I live in a place that is in fact a planned community, and that p Loved it. For so many reasons. Would have given it a 5.5 stars if I could, but then unfortunately subtracted half a star because my only complaint about this book was that the photographs did not have captions. Even though I knew exactly what the pictures were of it still bothered me. Minor point compared to how much I wanted to talk about this book with everyone near me, my highest compliment. Found it fascinating in part because I live in a place that is in fact a planned community, and that people come here to their “happy place“ which I never realized was just an updated version of utopic thinking. And the human struggles experienced by the founders of Auroville, and the levels of belongingness that come in subsequent generations, felt a lot like nativism you can find in beach communities of “how local are you” with an overlay of everyone who’s here now is here because of a planned vision, which has a little bit of a colonizing impact for those who were here even prior to its vision and creation. But, even without the overlay of what felt like a human experience in small new beautiful but growing and changing places, the book stood alone as well written, readable and compelling.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    2.5 While this was an interesting look at the attempt at the creation of a "utopian" society, it ultimately wasn't a really enjoyable read for me. 2.5 While this was an interesting look at the attempt at the creation of a "utopian" society, it ultimately wasn't a really enjoyable read for me.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Ross

    A well-researched and thorough story of a utopian community in India, written by a husband and wife who grew up there and went back (with their two children) after they had lived elsewhere for years. The pace was somewhat plodding and a better editor could have gotten rid of the repetitiveness. I also did not care much for the narrator. But the real problem was: bad book to read during a pandemic! I got so angry at the fact that children died for lack of supervision and young parents died for st A well-researched and thorough story of a utopian community in India, written by a husband and wife who grew up there and went back (with their two children) after they had lived elsewhere for years. The pace was somewhat plodding and a better editor could have gotten rid of the repetitiveness. I also did not care much for the narrator. But the real problem was: bad book to read during a pandemic! I got so angry at the fact that children died for lack of supervision and young parents died for stubbornly refusing medical care. At least it was on a small scale--unlike the hundreds of thousands who will get Covid variants because of anti-vaxxers.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    Excellent book. Kapur synthesized years of research and of interviewing his friends and Auroville residents. Reading about the aspirations and failures of a utopian community is always fascinating, especially since this one continues to exist, and I think that Kapur retells the story using an ongoing present tense captures the poignancy of his tale. The tragedy of the deaths of Auralice's parents is described without casting blame at the same time that Kapur subtlety conveys the horrific trauma Excellent book. Kapur synthesized years of research and of interviewing his friends and Auroville residents. Reading about the aspirations and failures of a utopian community is always fascinating, especially since this one continues to exist, and I think that Kapur retells the story using an ongoing present tense captures the poignancy of his tale. The tragedy of the deaths of Auralice's parents is described without casting blame at the same time that Kapur subtlety conveys the horrific trauma for Auralice. For me, this book reaffirms the dangers of ideological thinking as opposed to compassion.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Liz Steinhauser

    Inspired by a short piece in the New Yorker, and two trips over 30+ years to Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville, I picked up this memoir. Much better and more moving than I expected, I almost could not put it down. Not sure I got the answers I wanted, but Kapur's wrestling with the questions were just what I was seeking. I listened to the audiobook version. Inspired by a short piece in the New Yorker, and two trips over 30+ years to Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville, I picked up this memoir. Much better and more moving than I expected, I almost could not put it down. Not sure I got the answers I wanted, but Kapur's wrestling with the questions were just what I was seeking. I listened to the audiobook version.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Carl Leibniz

    Very well written about how utopia is a perfect place that does not exist!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir

    An eerie mystery wrapped in Eastern mysticism is at the heart of this intriguing examination by journalist Akash Kapur as he explores, with his wife Auralice, the deaths of her parents in a little hut in India in 1986. John Walker, heir to prestige and power, rejects the lifestyle of his father, the director of Washington’s National Gallery of Art. Belgium-born Diane Maes becomes a rebel after the death of her father, lands in reform school, befriends a hippie and winds up in India, where she wil An eerie mystery wrapped in Eastern mysticism is at the heart of this intriguing examination by journalist Akash Kapur as he explores, with his wife Auralice, the deaths of her parents in a little hut in India in 1986. John Walker, heir to prestige and power, rejects the lifestyle of his father, the director of Washington’s National Gallery of Art. Belgium-born Diane Maes becomes a rebel after the death of her father, lands in reform school, befriends a hippie and winds up in India, where she will meet John, who is on a quest of his own. Both become ardent members of the experimental community Auroville, which was founded on principles espoused by Swami Sri Aurobindo and carried forward by his chief follower, a Frenchwoman known as the Mother. Bernard, a young Frenchman involved in the resistance against the Nazis, survives brutal torture and confinement to find his sense of true release when he meets the Mother, who renames him: he becomes Satprem, “the one who loves truly,” and plays a crucial role in the gradual development of Auroville…and, possibly, in the shadowy deaths of Auralice’s parents when she was a young teenager. Auralice and her husband return to the ashram-like community in 2004 to resolve that mystery and the long-suppressed feelings associated with it. Kapur, who also grew up in Auroville, finds an old folder of John’s letters and papers that provide some clues. But questions remain. Could John’s illness have been prevented or cured if he had been less stubbornly dedicated to certain spiritual principles? Did words from Satprem influence Diane’s fateful decision to join her departed spouse and leave Auralice an orphan? Investigating the sequence of those extraordinary few hours in 1986 in Auroville has not proven easy, but the author and his wife have recommitted themselves to this idealistic communal setting and are raising their two children there. Kapur builds his story in a rich, person-centered chronology that includes the ideals and motivations of the 1960s hippie movement and its connection to principles and practices of Eastern religion and philosophy. It’s a tangled web, and pulling apart each skein combines Kapur’s deft penmanship and sharp observational powers with a devotion to his spouse, who has aided him at each step, and an intrinsic sense of confidence in the concepts that made Auroville a reality and continue to guide its destiny. BETTER TO HAVE GONE is both emotionally nourishing and intellectually provoking. Kapur suggests that the questions left unanswered are part of a greater, universal mystery that we all live within. Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott

  18. 4 out of 5

    C. A.

    I’ve lived on and off in India, in places that attract hippie spiritual seekers similar to the ones you read about in Better to Have Gone. And I’ve bought a lot of yummy cheese made at the Auroville community and have always been curious about the people who make it. The book is told from the perspective of a single family, and you’ll have to go elsewhere to learn what “integral yoga” is exactly, or how the community’s philosophies differ from other Indian ashrams, or how exactly the economy and I’ve lived on and off in India, in places that attract hippie spiritual seekers similar to the ones you read about in Better to Have Gone. And I’ve bought a lot of yummy cheese made at the Auroville community and have always been curious about the people who make it. The book is told from the perspective of a single family, and you’ll have to go elsewhere to learn what “integral yoga” is exactly, or how the community’s philosophies differ from other Indian ashrams, or how exactly the economy and government works today. But, for sure, I come away with a better understanding of the people who make my feta. This book tugged at my heartstrings—reading about people with genuine spiritual hunger and a longing for a utopian society, but who end up in something reminiscent of The Lord of the Flies. The author is honest and transparent about the pros and cons of life in Auroville. (He grew up there and returned to live while writing and researching this book.) He seems to appreciate some of Auroville’s goal, while remaining a bit of a sceptic. Kapur is a talented writer and he’s written a real page-turner. At the same time, he makes some interesting observations about faith, devotion, and fanaticism. But this book is not for the faint hearted. (view spoiler)[There is one tragic event after another, some involving the death of small children. (hide spoiler)] One thing I’ll say is this: After reading about the heartbreak and tragic events that follow the disappointing death of “The Mother”—and all that talk about cellular immortality and transformation—I was grateful to be following a guru who did conquer death by his resurrection after death on a cross. I recommend this book to anyone interested in intentional community. There are lessons to be learned here.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chris S.

    Wow. What a ride. While it takes a bit to get started, this is full of all the pathos, promise, and peril of utopia. Kapur mixes his and his wife's past with musings about the general concept of utopia and revolutions itself, focusing in on key events in the life of the utopian community of Auroville and its revolt against control of the Pondicherry-based Committee for Yoga, a fight which had lasting repercussions both on the scale of Indian constitutional law and on the mundane lives of those r Wow. What a ride. While it takes a bit to get started, this is full of all the pathos, promise, and peril of utopia. Kapur mixes his and his wife's past with musings about the general concept of utopia and revolutions itself, focusing in on key events in the life of the utopian community of Auroville and its revolt against control of the Pondicherry-based Committee for Yoga, a fight which had lasting repercussions both on the scale of Indian constitutional law and on the mundane lives of those residing there. The setting is also richly illustrated- and that's not just Auroville proper. I now want to take a whole grand tour of Tamil Nadu to see half the sites described here. Kapur's description makes his, John, and Diane's world come alive without losing too much objectivity. If anything, the objectivity might be a sticking point for me. Kapur is so willing to give everyone a fair hearing when perhaps they shouldn't be, for example in the case of a man who burned books in Auroville's library at the height of the backlash against those supporting neither the CFY or yoga who later effectively said "I wasn't myself." Bull. Even if you weren't in your normal frame of mind, those are still your actions. Don't come at me with that lame non-apology. Still, Kapur leaves enough information so that you can evaluate his conclusions for yourself. While I tend to (mostly) trust his (he was there after all), you can also take a look at the events and decide differently about utopia, what it gives us, what it takes away, and the way belief shapes our lives, for better and for worse.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kate Lawrence

    I've long been intrigued by utopian communities: what they believe, how they live, how the history of their communities plays out. I'd heard of India's Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, but knew only the vaguest details of their work and teachings. Author Akash Kapur, who grew up in Auroville and married the daughter of a central figure in the community's story, lays it all out for us, both the original idealism and, after the Mother's death, the painful infighting that plagued them for many years. I've long been intrigued by utopian communities: what they believe, how they live, how the history of their communities plays out. I'd heard of India's Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, but knew only the vaguest details of their work and teachings. Author Akash Kapur, who grew up in Auroville and married the daughter of a central figure in the community's story, lays it all out for us, both the original idealism and, after the Mother's death, the painful infighting that plagued them for many years. Auroville's history contains much that is sad, even heart-wrenching, yet community members found meaning, stuck with it, and Auroville survives. On the occasion of the community's 50th anniversary in 2018, the author writes: "I marvel at the way [the Mother's] aspiration has endured, battered though it may be. All the dreams, all the determination, all the resolute and at times blind faith. All the people who've worked so hard, who've sweated and bled on this plateau, who have overcome, and sometimes they've succumbed, whose collective efforts have inched this project along. I'm moved by the way Auroville and its idealism have survived."

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stacie

    I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed are my own. I'm not usually much of a nonfiction person, but I was very intrigued when I saw the cover for some reason. When I did some quick initial research, I had to find out more! For a nonfiction book, this is written pretty well. (And by that I mean "not like a textbook.") I was definitely interested in the story and the history of the village, etc. as well. I didn't particularly enjoy the I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed are my own. I'm not usually much of a nonfiction person, but I was very intrigued when I saw the cover for some reason. When I did some quick initial research, I had to find out more! For a nonfiction book, this is written pretty well. (And by that I mean "not like a textbook.") I was definitely interested in the story and the history of the village, etc. as well. I didn't particularly enjoy the preach-y aspects when it came to the environment and such, but that seems to kind of be expected, given the creation of the community and such. An interesting read, even if you don't like nonfiction.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Uli Vogel

    I've always been fascinated by communities that try to follow their dream of a perfect society ruled by love, compassion and spirituality. So far, every single one has failed. Must have, or we'd know about it. This very personal account about Auroville is touching both in its authenticity and narrative style. It keeps its objectivity to a necessary amount, though it must have been hard, as both the author and his partner have a strong bond with the community and especially to the two members who I've always been fascinated by communities that try to follow their dream of a perfect society ruled by love, compassion and spirituality. So far, every single one has failed. Must have, or we'd know about it. This very personal account about Auroville is touching both in its authenticity and narrative style. It keeps its objectivity to a necessary amount, though it must have been hard, as both the author and his partner have a strong bond with the community and especially to the two members who are at the center of the narration. Every single line speaks of this connection. There is neither good nor bad here, just enthusiasts who try their best and sometimes fail tragically. Highly recommendable read for anyone inclined to try and understand the mechanisms behind such efforts.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jk

    I received a free advance reader's edition copy of this book via the Goodreads Giveaways program and would like to thank anyone who had a hand in that! I was drawn to this book because I have always found utopian communities and the people who create them fascinating. I had never heard of Auroville before and really enjoyed learning about it. The author presents the history of Auroville from the very beginning, highlighting the struggles and the evolution of the community as the backdrop of the t I received a free advance reader's edition copy of this book via the Goodreads Giveaways program and would like to thank anyone who had a hand in that! I was drawn to this book because I have always found utopian communities and the people who create them fascinating. I had never heard of Auroville before and really enjoyed learning about it. The author presents the history of Auroville from the very beginning, highlighting the struggles and the evolution of the community as the backdrop of the tragic personal story that is the beating heart of the book. Engaging and meticulously researched!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Janilyn Kocher

    I am not a believer in utopian communities or their preachings. However, I find some of them interesting to read about. I had never heard of this community in India before reading this book. I found the personal stories the most interesting. I skimmed all the philosophy stuff and the gurus of the community, focusing instead on the stories of John and Diane. I found it interesting that the author and his wife returned to live in the community and raise their family. It was an interesting read. Th I am not a believer in utopian communities or their preachings. However, I find some of them interesting to read about. I had never heard of this community in India before reading this book. I found the personal stories the most interesting. I skimmed all the philosophy stuff and the gurus of the community, focusing instead on the stories of John and Diane. I found it interesting that the author and his wife returned to live in the community and raise their family. It was an interesting read. Thanks to Scribner and NetGalley for the early read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Carla

    I think I’m glad I read this but not sure. I had a difficult time keeping track of people in the first sections of the book. They mystery of the life and death of John and Diane compelled me to finish it but also to understand Akash and Auroalice in their current lives. Politics isn’t a word used but that’s really a thread throughout the book - individuals and their own agendas. The contrast between John’s two worlds was fascinating.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Meri

    It's an interesting story about an intentional community established in the 60s. The author profiles the people who live there in the early days along with the growth of the community, which comes with political strife. The two people who die do not die mysteriously. There's no foul play involved. I think that part of the blurb is a little misleading. Nevertheless, it's an interesting story about a utopian community which, unusually, is still thriving. It's an interesting story about an intentional community established in the 60s. The author profiles the people who live there in the early days along with the growth of the community, which comes with political strife. The two people who die do not die mysteriously. There's no foul play involved. I think that part of the blurb is a little misleading. Nevertheless, it's an interesting story about a utopian community which, unusually, is still thriving.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    We listened to this fascinating account of the history of the intentional community of Auroville, founded more than 50 years ago in India. The author’s and his wife’s parents were among the early residents of Auroville, and after attending college in the US, and getting married to each other, they returned there to raise their sons and uncover the history and mysteries involving the early years of the community and his wife’s family.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mary Robideaux

    This book was not for me. I was having a hard time dealing with the abuses of this cult and it got worse as the book went on. This is a book about crazy cult people. If you are the type who loves to imagine utopia, the world without the way civilization is today, the search for the one person to follow to enlightenment, then have at it. So not me!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sherry Brown

    I had not read about Utopian preaching and the communities of which this book shares. It was a very very interesting book to read!!! It was definitely a page turner for me! I’m glad I won this from Goodreads!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Denise Kruse

    Interesting to learn about this Utopian society in India. I would have liked to learn more about “Mother”, exactly why her devotees chose to follow her. I am confused that the author seems so critical yet so proud of this place to which he and his family returned.

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