Book Review: Greetings From Utopia Park

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Greetings From Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Claire Hoffman

Pages: 288

Book Description:

In this engrossing memoir, Claire Hoffman recounts the remarkable years she spent growing up in an increasingly isolated meditation community in the American heartland.
When Claire Hoffman’s alcoholic father abandons his family, his struggling wife, Liz, tells five-year-old Claire and her seven-year-old brother, Stacey, that they are going to heaven—Iowa—to live in Maharishi’s national headquarters for Heaven on Earth. For Claire’s mother, Transcendental Meditation—Maharishi’s method of meditation and his approach to living the fullest possible life—promises world peace and Enlightenment just as their family is falling apart.
At first this secluded utopia offers warmth and support, and makes these outsiders feel calm, secure, and connected to the world. At the Maharishi School, Claire learns Maharishi’s philosophy for living and meditates with her class. With the promise of peace and Enlightenment constantly on the horizon, every day is infused with magic and meaning. But as Claire and Stacey mature, their adolescent skepticism kicks in, drawing them away from the community and into delinquency and drugs. To save herself, Claire moves to California to live with her father, breaking from Maharishi completely. After she works for a decade in journalism and academia, the challenges of adulthood propel her back to Iowa, where she reexamines her spiritual upbringing and tries to reconnect with the magic of her childhood.


I had a few complaints about this book, though they were mingled among a multitude of things I thoroughly enjoyed about it. The first couple of chapters felt slow and dry to me, going more into the backstory of the movement and the lives of Claire's parents and grandparents, whose stories were compelling, but not the ones I was most interested in hearing about. The last chapter again felt a little dry and unexciting, after I'd flown through the entire midsection in the course of a couple of hours. The best parts of the book for me were the fast paced, highly readable chapters focusing on Claire's unique and troubled childhood, which transitioned into an equally tumultuous young adulthood. 
Claire's story is captivating, and at times had me wrapped up in it like a novel would. In fact, her character development and progression throughout the many events of her life often felt more like a work of fiction than of fact. However, a few of the other portions of the book that were more informational sometimes tended slightly closer to fact dumping. I had a harder time focusing on the facts and statistics she gave when describing the Transcendental Meditation Movement itself; it's history, founders, and finances were somewhat less fascinating to me than the author's personal stories from that experience. 

However, I also found the book's premise to be unique and highly intriguing. I had very little previous knowledge of this meditation movement that apparently swept the country in the 1970s and 1980s, but it's supposed corruption, seemingly impossible beliefs, and it's effects on the author's life all fascinated me. The entire time, I could see what the author seemed to realize later in life; it seemed that much of the intention of the movement was money. In every "good intention" and attempt at World Peace, I saw another corrupt, money-hungry person, using a very nontraditional method to find his success. However, I also saw the pull and the intrigue for those involved. The practices and results that meditation offered seemed wildly captivating and yes, transcendent. Through the author's own multi-faceted perspective on the movement, the reader is also afforded the same, part-cynical, part-reverent viewpoint the author seems to take. 

The writing in this book was quick, intelligent and relatively unadorned, though there were some incredibly graceful, descriptive passages that seemed to ebb and flow like moving water. The cast of characters were all the more complex and multi-dimensional because they were real and truly lived this incredible and bizarre moment in history and space.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves memoirs, or is interested in the Transcendental Meditation Movement and its effects on those who truly experienced it. 

*I received an advanced copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.*

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  1. I'm glad that you really enjoyed this in spite of your minor issues with the book. Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  2. I can just imagine how fascinating this story would be!