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The Great Failure: My Unexpected Path to Truth

3.5  ·  Rating Details ·  435 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
One of America's favorite teachers, Natalie Goldberg has inspired millions to write as a way to develop an intimate relationship with their minds and a greater understanding of the world in which they live. Now, through this honest and wry exploration of her own life, Goldberg puts her teachings to work.
ebook, 224 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published September 1st 2004)
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Dec 21, 2010 Lilian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Natalie Goldberg is at her best as a teacher of both writing and zen and of writing as a spiritual discipline and practice. I first encountered her books around 20 years ago. Writing Down the Bones was all the rage in writing groups and of course, being contrary, I avoided it for a few years and then read both that one and Wild Mind (basically a re-run of Bones, but enjoyable). I found them invigorating, and loved the spiritual aspect, though her favourite methods didn’t work for me.

The Great Fa
Sonya Feher
Apr 29, 2009 Sonya Feher rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: spiritual seekers, fans of Natalie Goldberg,
I read this after hearing Goldberg speak at a book signing recently. Someone said they'd read all of her books and she asked if the woman had read The Great Failure. The woman hadn't heard of it and neither had I, so I picked it up. It explores Goldberg's coming to terms with her father's mistreatment of her, revelations about her spiritual teacher Katagiri Roshi that come up after his death, and her continuing quest to find herself in the midst of the 10,000 things. She's honest without being c ...more
"The Great Failure" is autobiographical and written by a woman whose earlier book "Writing Down the Bones" (which I never read) inspired many people to start writing. The book is about two male role models - her father and her Zen teacher - both who she felt betrayed her. She tries to reconcile their affairs, their abuse, and the ways they compromised her trust with two people she loved and admired.

The book begins with her being held up at gunpoint in St. Paul, Minnesota, and continues into an u
Jan 18, 2014 Dooug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddhism, memoir
I haven't read many memoirs but this one I couldn't put down. Goldberg's writing flows smoothly in and out of stories and stories within stories. I think I really enjoyed this book because her unravelling of the echoes of her teacher's and parents' own human imperfections were in parallel to my own experience. As she put it, we "[inherit their strengths, but also carry their shadows]".

Nearing thirty years old, I've come to see my parents in a real light, and appreciate them as the accumulation
Theryn Fleming
This is a brief memoir of Natalie’s relationships with her father and her Zen teacher and her coming to grips with them being human, i.e. flawed. Essentially, it is about her figuring out whether she is able to admire/love people even when she feels that they have disappointed/betrayed her by their actions (or inaction, in the case of her mother).

The Great Failure didn’t resonate with me in the same way as her earlier work did. I think if you’re going to write about how people have disappointed
Mar 12, 2017 D rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I worked my way slowly thru this book, which at first was more than I cared to know about Natalie, even though I'd loved Bones and Long Quiet Hwy. But glad I didn't give up... deep thought and no conclusions... but isn't that life? and the conclusion is only that things don't wrap up neatly in real life, but messages we need slither through the cracks. ("It's how the light gets in.")
Kristin Lieber
"The Great Failure" is autobiographical and written by a woman whose earlier book "Writing Down the Bones" (which I never read) inspired many people to start writing. The book is about two male role models - her father and her Zen teacher - both who she felt betrayed her. She tries to reconcile their affairs, their abuse, and the ways they compromised her trust with two people she loved and admired.

The book begins with her being held up at gunpoint in St. Paul, Minnesota, and continues into an u
Feb 18, 2014 H added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Eventually, as the teacher-student relationship matures, the student manifests these qualities herself and learns to stand on her own two feet. The projections are reclaimed. What we saw in him is also inside us. We close the gap between who we think the teacher is and who we think we are not. We become whole. (91)

After he [Te-shan] left Lung-t'an, he wandered for a long time, looking to be tested and sharpened. He already had left his place in northern China to wander among what he thought were
Ashley Lauren
I'm a memoir junkie and I was particularly interested in this book because I have so thoroughly enjoyed Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. I was really curious if all of her great advice about writing translated into really good writing of her own. Despite the relatively low rating, I think it really did. Goldberg has such a way of writing that is both easy and open. Her sentences can be simple one moment and full of amazing images the next. She is so wonderfully honest in this book and I really ...more
Claudia Turner
Feb 15, 2017 Claudia Turner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew I would relate to this because I had read Goldberg before and enjoyed her style, I was interested in zen and writing and I was interested in the title. So I thought yes this would be good. But it was more than I expected because it had Taos and parts of New Mexico in it. I recently moved here so there was the Zen, the writing and introspection, facing family and fear and self-censorship and humor, but then there was Taos! A great joy.
Jan 12, 2014 Karima rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Natalie Goldberg has been a model of the writing life for so many of us. She is honest, no-nonsense and very intent on self-exploration and understanding. She has been a serious practitioner of Zen Buddhism for much of her adult life. This book explores her relationship with the two central male influences in her life.
The bartender is her father, Ben "Buddy" Goldberg. I totally got this guy. He reminded very much of my own father, a life-loving, gambling guy who ofttimes stepped out of/over bou
Aug 04, 2016 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Natalie Goldberg's strength as an author is the strong, authentic voice of her narrator. She is able to connect with me as a reader. She is also good at storytelling itself, using a strong technique to create healthy, lively writing. Her books often contain truths about humanity and truths about individuals trying to become human. Of all the writers I've read, Goldberg is one of the best at portraying the human condition, and for that, I cherish her writing and am thankful that she shares her th ...more
An important document of betrayal in American Zen. Aching with masculine loneliness and the pain that follows abuse of patriarchal privilege. An interesting parallel construction of the two father figures in her life: Katigiri Roshi, and her father, who fought on opposite sides of WWII. The strongest moments for me were the memoir anecdotes, vividly told, rather than the exposition of the meaning these men had for her. Still trying to put my finger on where it crossed the line into self-indulgen ...more
Angela Gaskell
"The Great Failure" was okay for me. An easy read for sure and interesting in some points. I feel that giving a review of the book and judging it goes against what the author Natalie Goldberg was preaching about and going against what she learned from her zen master Roshi. She writes on page 129 "A mind that rests at zero. No good or bad. No criticism, blame - also no praise. That is how we were trained by Roshi. In a world of bonuses, competition, fear of failure, yearning for applause, receivi ...more
Martina Röll
I enjoyed this, but not as much as I enjoyed Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America. This book is long-winded in places and Goldberg gets caught up in judgements. In long passages she appears to be trying to change her feelings by thinking. A repeating motive is that she spends effort digging into past events. I kept wondering why she did this.
While it is interesting to follow her story and to relate to her struggles, in many times I wondered why she behaved as she did. Her descriptions of th
George Ilsley
This book never managed to enter my head somehow. It failed to engage me, but it was not a great failure, it was a mediocre failure. Perhaps one needs to be a long time fan of Goldberg's to be interested in the material. This is the first thing I've read; somehow I've managed to escape reading "Writing Down the Bones".

So much about this writer, but so little was interesting. Her emotional reactions to events were imponderable -- why so upset about Roshi? I failed to see how it was so transgressi
Jul 30, 2010 Shayda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
Really a memoir about betrayals -- betrayals of the author by two men whom she adored, her father and teacher; the author's own betrayal of the man she described as the love of her life. There's a lot of pain recounted here and at times this is not easy reading, so I understand why some of the Goodreaders' reviews describe the book as "ugly." I'm undecided as to how satisfying the resolution can be, though I suppose it has something to do with the relative values of truth and art. Goldberg is a ...more
Aug 13, 2013 Kathy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not her best book, but it was interesting to read partly because I had just read her book about her relationship with her Zen teacher, who she totally adored. This book is about finding out that her Zen teacher had affairs with some students, and about the failures of her father that she also discovered. The think I like about Natalie Goldberg is she is totally honest in her writing. But, sometimes (like in this book), you sort of want to tell her to "just get over it." But, I enjoyed the book a ...more
Alison Perry
I mentally wrote the review for this book before I even finished Part I. What I had planned to say, "The Great Failure is aptly named. Of the few things that are right with this book, that is most significant." I wondered as I flipped through the pages, what was it that I once loved about this author, because for the life of me I couldn't see it in this book. Then she got me in Part II when discribing her father's death and I was simultainiously thrilled and surprised. But, she lost me just as s ...more
Jun 28, 2013 Jeanne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Zen students, the sexually abused
Shelves: zen
For someone with my interests, an excellent book that deals with the subtleties of parent-child sexual abuse and neglect, as well as with Goldberg's own spiritual path in reconciling herself to her teacher's humanity. I decided to give this five stars instead of four because Goldberg's personal insight is so sensitive. It's very hard for someone who experienced sexual abuse to read about it without being torn up by it. Goldberg's own path of acceptance cast some light on my own family, as well a ...more
Taylor Church
Mar 03, 2016 Taylor Church rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This wasn't my favorite Natalie Goldberg book (I've read 3 so far), but it still was excellent. It's a somewhat disjointed and scattered memoir about a lot of important things that happened in her life. As does all her writing, much if it comes back to the practice of writing and the practice of zen. But the most compelling parts were where she described poetically, yet quite matter of factly, how she was abused by her father, and then how her father's death impacted her. The dialogue was funny ...more
Aug 29, 2007 John rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those familiar with author's previous work
This book seems written for the author to exorcise her own demons. In previous works, she'd extolled the wisdom of her (late) Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi. She discovered recentky that he wasn't the saint she'd thought him to be (portrayed him as); this work includes details of her father's abusive behavior, presumably to explain how she came to put Roshi on a pedestal by comparison.

For another perspective on Katagiri Roshi, read Thank You and OK! by David Chadwick; this zen teacher had a signif
Elizabeth Thorpe
This was a page-turner. I read it in two days. I picked it up because I listened to part of Long Quiet Highway while I was on the bus to Maine a couple of weeks ago. I had read Long Quiet Highway and listened to the audiobook before. So it was interesting to get more of the story through this second memoir. I always want more from memoirs, more of the real behind-the-scenes story, and here's much more. Should she have written this book? I'm not sure. But scene-by-scene, she did write it well.
An interesting exploration about the two central male figures in Natalie Goldberg's life.

Both men were dynamic and full of life force and deeply flawed. Goldberg's father had no sense of boundaries, which caused havoc in her life. Katagiri Roshi was Goldberg's Zen teacher who led a secret life that was not exposed until after his death. Both men were instrumental to Goldberg's discovery of compassion, forgiveness, and human frailty in spite of greatness.

A deeply moving work about our humanity a
Meh. I've always enjoyed Goldberg's writing, but this one was...fraught. Painful, messy, uncomfortable. Like life? Maybe. But not really such an enjoyable read, nor do I feel like I really learned much through the experience or came away with much new insight. There were some touching moments, but...yeah. Hmph.

In some ways, I feel like Goldberg *needed* to write this book, and that's cool. But somehow I'm still not convinced that I needed to read it.
Jan 20, 2014 Isabella rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read almost all of Natalie's books and as usual, she didn't not disappoint. Although in this one, the raw honesty and emotion really touched me. At the end, she says that she just wants to hear that she is important to somebody. Well. Natalie, you are important to me. I'm glad I picked up "Writing Down the Bones" all thoseyears ago. It is one of my most cherished books and I've returned to it many, many times when I needed a pick-me-up.
Cordelia Becker
Feb 24, 2015 Cordelia Becker rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: .
Natalie Goldberg is a treasure. Some people might say the book is about betrayal but I think it is more about disappointment. It is about two people in Natalie's life that don't live up to the great expectations put upon them by others and by society. This book isn't as strong as Mary Karr's trilogy or Jeanette Wall's Glass Castle but it a very worthwhile and easy to read book. I always learn something when I read books by this excellent honest writer.
Jun 12, 2007 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book in a night, so it must have been good. Like all her books, it was an easy read, but at the same time there was a depth to it (very Zen-like in its simplicity, yet its ability to point beyond itself). I would have liked to see her go even deeper, though. There were some parts where I felt like she just brushed the surface, for example, when speaking about her ex-husband, who was clearly an important man in her life, just like her father and her Zen master.
Monica Snyder
Sep 05, 2013 Monica Snyder rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Goldberg. She tells the truth no matter how brutal. This is the only kind of memoir I'm interested. I cannot wrap my mind around the years of her life practicing Zen, but I understand the draw to monastic like simplicity and the community of like minded people. The flushing out of her relationship with her parents, particularly her father was good. Don't we all want to resolve these feelings?
Great stuff in here about grief. Based on the title, I thought there might be more insight into processing our own failures, but it focused more on the disappointment we feel when others fail us. It might have been neat if she'd bridged that gap, but maybe that's another book. I love Natalie Goldberg's writing, though I'd recommend other books she's written before this one.
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Natalie Goldberg lived in Brooklyn until she was six, when her family moved out to Farmingdale, Long Island, where her father owned the bar the Aero Tavern. From a young age, Goldberg was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Carson McCullers's The Ballad of the Sad Cafe , which she read in ninth grade. She thinks that single book led her eventually to put pen to paper when she was twe ...more
More about Natalie Goldberg...

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“You live and then you die, I thought. It's good to have some good times.” 10 likes
“Of course, we are drawn to teachers who unconsciously mirror our own psychology. None of us are clean. We all make mistakes. It's the repetition of those mistakes and the refusal to look at them that compound the suffering and assure their continuation.” 1 likes
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