Thursday, June 30, 2016

Greetings from Utopia Park - Claire Hoffman

Greetings from Utopia Park
Title: Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood
Author: Claire Hoffman
Publication Date: 6/7/16
Pages: 288
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 6/17/16

Summary: After her father left, Claire's mother packed up her, her brother, and their few belongings and moved to Iowa. There, they became immersed in the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement and community. Now, Hoffman looks back on her time so deep within the movement and how it shaped her.

What I Thought: I always love how TLC Book Tours helps me discover books I never would find on my own. This is a perfect example. I don't know that I ever would have picked up Hoffman's memoir about her childhood immersed in the TM community if it were not offered to me through TLC. But it was, and I did, and I learned so much.

I first learned of the TM community in Fairfield, Iowa back when Oprah visited and talked to members of the group a few years back. She did a whole episode of Oprah's Next Chapter on the group. Now, Oprah made things seem pretty cheery. The episode shows her chatting it up with a couple who moved to Fairfield and are, apparently, living happier, healthier lives there as part of the movement. I find it particularly interesting that the wife feels TM has made her Christian faith stronger. I can see her logic, but it difficult to reconcile with her immersion in the highly spiritual movement. Regardless, Oprah only showed a very shiny side of the community.

Hoffman gives a more transparent insiders perspective. 

The world Hoffman reveals is far from shiny. As a poor family within the community, Claire, her brother, and her mother were not living in fancy new houses or experiencing the financial bliss Enlightenment promised. Instead, Claire attended the TM movement's private school on scholarship and her mom scrapped together money in order to attend "flying courses" at the TM centers. Things were hardly idyllic. 

Claire Hoffman
Hoffman especially deals with how she grew disillusioned with the movement in her teenage years. No longer did their TM sanctioned trailer in Utopia Park seem a bastion of safety and prosperity. Instead, as her scholarship disappeared and she transitioned back to public school, the home which was once a point of pride felt like a constant reminder of her difference from her peers. The pre-TM community of Fairfield apparently looks on the mediators in a similar way to how the "townies" looked on university students in the small town where Kevin and I attended college. If you've never lived in a small college town and experienced such a thing, let me clue you in. There's tension - lots of it.

Hoffman writes in a very easy-to-read style. Her story is very interesting, particularly when you reach the end and realize she still practices meditation and finds it an important part of her life. The experiences of her childhood did not turn her away from the movement forever. Instead, she is now teaching her own child many of the same principles and practices, albeit with less fervor than her own mother did.

I think it's always helpful and important to be reading about people different from you. Hoffman's life experiences have been very different than my own in many ways. I really enjoyed seeing the world through her eyes for a bit. Her spiritual beliefs are obviously vastly different from my own. Yet, learning about her thoughts and way of life has value. The TM movement fascinates me. I'm not interested in getting involved in it, but I would like to continue learning about it, particularly as it seems to be having a resurgence in celebrity culture these days.

*To read other bloggers' thoughts on Greetings from Utopia Park, check out the full tour schedule.*

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Doubtful
If You Liked This, Try: Stolen Innocence / I Am Malala / Radical

A Reduced Review: An interesting, thoughtful reflection on childhood within the Transcendental Meditation movement.

1 comment:

  1. Seeing the world through another's eyes is arguably the best thing about reading any book for me. :)

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!