Mag Dimond set out to publish a collection of essays about her travels to far-flung places, but characters from her early life kept intruding. Before long, she understood that her tales wouldn’t be honest unless she wrote about the youthful yearnings that fueled her restless jaunts. Bowing to Elephants invites readers to join her in her difficult search for love and belonging, perhaps learning things about themselves in the process.
This is a book worth savoring, with deftly told stories of childhood loneliness and neglect woven among vivid tales of people encountered at the ends of the Earth: the family cook who provided companionship during her year in a Tuscan villa; the ghosts of American prisoners held in Vietnam’s notorious Hanoi Hilton; the sad young misfit in frigid Venice who evoked in Dimond feelings of compassion and maternal tenderness.
The author employs clean, muscular language and an acute attention to sights, smells, personalities, and spiritual teachings. She describes India’s sacred Ganges River as “blackish green, smelling of old clothes, animals, and garbage,” for example, and writes that her alcoholic mother died alone, “with a bloated liver, seized up lungs, and an abiding terror.” Then she calls upon decades of Buddhist practice for the clarity that gives meaning to such disturbing images. Watching families burning their dead alongside the Ganges, for example, she began to grasp again the Buddhist concept of impermanence.
Dimond found the final piece of her self-healing in her 60s while on an African safari, observing elephants and the deep maternal bond they share with their young. They “broke me wide open,” she writes, “…(touching) a timeless and hungry female part of who I was.”
With family demons exorcised and wanderlust tamed, she returns to San Francisco, a place where she finally feels at home. Childhood anguish has been replaced by sweet memories and lessons “that love is possible here and now.” Readers will relish the journey she relates in this wonderful book.
BlueInk Heads-Up: This book will be of special interest to students of Buddhism.
Also available as an ebook.