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The Yoga of Max's Discontent


The Yoga of Max's Discontent

Karan Bajaj's THE YOGA OF MAX'S DISCONTENT is a beautifully rendered epic journey, wholly worthy of the playful take on its namesake. Transcendent yet readable, spiritual yet wildly and deliberately accessible, the novel works on many levels and excels at them all.

Max Pzoras, the son of a Greek immigrant mother, is raised in the New York projects. He fights to make his mother's sacrifices worthwhile, unlike his siblings, working hard to achieve a Harvard education and a job that many New Yorkers would kill for. He is, however, supremely discontent with his surface successes. After experiencing a personal tragedy, it takes a nearby food stand vendor to catalyze his decision to seek fulfillment via more spiritual means. So he heads to the Himalayas.

Wait right there. You might be thinking Haven’t we read this one before? Privileged white guy seeks enlightenment through some culturally appropriative "journey”? Well, Bajaj has heard that old song too and thus combats it from the very first steps of Max's choices. Max is sharply aware of the problematic nature of this concept, and Bajaj uses the premise to do something pretty darn cool: He writes the perspective of an aware white guy who gets to do it right. Bajaj himself is a yogi, and he clearly has met some (likely many) ignorant white people who don't understand the cultural and spiritual significance of the practice --- not to mention the intensity, selflessness and commitment from which it originated and still manifests today.

"Transcendent yet readable, spiritual yet wildly and deliberately accessible, the novel works on many levels and excels at them all."

Therefore, Max goes into his adventure foolish and ignorantly privileged, as many like him do --- and it costs him. His ensuing choices come from a much humbler place. This tall, handsome, well-to-do white guy who worked his way out of the projects and up to the ostensible top --- the successful immigrant cliché --- experiences just how empty that endeavor has left him and how far he truly is from the actual peace he seeks. He recognizes that he is trying to access something incredible, foreign and ancient that he knows nothing about, and he is doing so for what comes down to deeply selfish reasons. He begins to listen, practice and learn. He meets people who remind him why he wants to change, and those who help change him. Ultimately, though, we learn about the pain and poignancy of trying to change oneself not for the sake of self-fulfillment, but rather to lose the self for the sake of total connection to the rest of the universe.

If that sounds like it's getting a bit wishy-washy, it might to some readers, but this reader, for one, found it entirely accessible. The narrative is rich with a diverse array of characters Bajaj brings alive --- from a war widow to a true guru, from Max's disabled druggie brother to Himalayan motorcycle punks --- and Max's endeavors toward the transcendent progress fluidly through the plot. Introspective and contemplative, the novel is still powerfully cinematic.

Bajaj illustrates place so vividly. As a native Manhattanite, I found his New York wholly and refreshingly authentic, from its pretentious hipsters to the fierce tragedies of the projects. Though I lack authority for the rest of his settings, he doesn't --- Bajaj trained as a Hatha yoga teacher in a South Indian ashram --- and they come to life. The novel always understands Max as the outsider to yoga and the Himalayas, and consistently emphasizes native voices and perspectives.

THE YOGA OF MAX'S DISCONTENT treads the line of the fantastic, slipping into the metaphysical, but the voice and character are so accessible and well-rendered that you don't believe you've actually shifted into fantasy. Instead, it evokes only that such transcendence is perhaps possible in this life, through Max's yoga and Bajaj's writing. There were times when I wanted more --- deeper details, more concrete answers --- but I trusted that this too was Bajaj's intent, and I, at least, didn't need him to be more heavy-handed. I trusted that I got from the book exactly what he wanted me to, and that it will prove rich reread after reread. The overall effect is enchanting and absorbing, and I already look forward to his next work. I am quite grateful for this wholly unique, exquisite novel.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on May 6, 2016

The Yoga of Max's Discontent
by Karan Bajaj

  • Publication Date: May 2, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 0735213453
  • ISBN-13: 9780735213456