Magical realism, deep yearning, wild topography, snow leopards, mysterious women and myriad desires are all thrown together in Karan Bajaj’s latest novel, “The Yoga of Max’s Discontent.”
Max Pzoras’s problem isn’t his dying mother, his ‘do-gooder’ younger sister, his lack of faith, his unrewarding day job on Wall Street or his violent childhood (which he escaped through education). It’s all of these things combined which, laced together, have given the hero the sense that something is wrong with his life. He’s not sure what that is, of course. After a random brush with aggression, it is Max’s meeting a shirtless falafel maker that puts him on the first step to something else.
Right away, Bajaj skilfully immerses the reader in India—the real India. Among unforgiving climates and obscenely-packed train cars (and barely functional transit) the reader finds a world that is, in many ways, stripped to the bone. Indeed, an aspiring yogi learns quickly to cut away the erroneous and superfluous. So goes Max. Following an Internet breadcrumb trail in a search for identity, our hero heads for the Himalayas in winter. Though this is an adventure few experienced mountaineers would even attempt, Max’s charge becomes a series of enjoyable missteps and near disasters.
“Yoga” calls for a little patience with Max’s journey between extremes in climate and belief. However, his trip is highlighted by the diverse human relationships (many in bizarre contexts) one would assume could be found on the path to yogic enlightenment. Time and again, the worlds of an agrarian ashram and the modern world (ATMs, Internet access) are bridged by walking and suffering of various kinds.
There are a few places where a certain logic seems to be missing from the hero’s actions. After running a marathon, for example, this reviewer didn’t feel ‘invincible’ enough to conquer the mighty Himalayas. (Perhaps the hero’s violence-tinged ghetto upbringing makes up the difference.) Another minor head-scratcher was the supposed fate of all the earnings the hero worked so hard to amass. (After years slaving away in a New York equity firm, there would be a lot.)
Still, these minor issues and a bit of ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ take nothing away from “Yoga.” Walking on water and starting fires with body hear are mere teasers for the climactic twist. For a story about seeking, this reviewer found a satisfying ending.