To everyone around him, Max looks like the ultimate American success story: the child of Greek immigrants who grew up in the projects, who overcame his poor unbringing to be incredibly successful, make a lot of money, and live a fancy life in New York City. But underneath the surface, Max isn’t as happy as he appears. After a personal tragedy and a chance meeting, Max travels to the Himalayas in India to discover his true purpose and find the meaning of life.
I know what you’re probably thinking. I thought it too when I first read the summary of The Yoga of Max’s Discontent. “Oh, it’s another one of those stereotypical books where a white person decides to ‘find themselves’ by going to India.” I was ready to pass this book on by when I saw the name on the cover: Karan Bajaj. And instantly, with the knowledge that this novel was actually written by an Indian man, my interest was transformed. I couldn’t wait to pick up this novel and see what Bajaj had done with this stereotypical storyline.
What I found was a gorgeous meditation on yoga, its place within Hinduism, and Hindu spiritual beliefs cloaked in the novel of one man’s journey to inner peace. I don’t pretend to be an expert on yoga, but I do sometimes become frustrated with the way it is practiced within the Western sphere (without the context of Hinduism and or any understanding of what yoga truly is). Yoga has become a thing people talk about over brunch mimosas, rather than a part of my religion and culture. I don’t begrudge its popularity, but it is nice to see it placed within its proper context, especially considering how easy-to-read and interesting Bajaj makes it.
I also appreciated Bajaj’s depiction of Max’s spiritual journey in The Yoga of Max’s Discontent. There were no fancy ashrams with juice cleanses and spas for Max. He is genuinely looking for spiritual enlightenment, and that quest is absolutely brutal. There are no easy ways to know and understand. Bajaj’s descriptions are just incredible here; you can picture every scene in this book vividly. I would call the prose in this novel lush, except that would be incongruent; the entire novel is spare, almost to the point of agony. The only extravagant thing about it is Bajaj’s beautiful prose.
I’ve talked a lot about why The Yoga of Max’s Discontent meant something to me, but the real question is: Is it enjoyable? And the answer is a resounding yes. There are certainly some difficult parts of the book, as Max faces real suffering, but it’s beautiful and moving, and you can’t help but feel enlightened after you read it. It’s a surprisingly fast read for such a heavy subject, and I highly recommend it.