Lena's Reviews > Turtle Feet

Turtle Feet by Nikolai Grozni
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's review
May 03, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: memoir

Nikolai Grozni was a childhood piano prodigy well on his way to becoming a professional jazz musician when a sudden metaphysical crisis caused him to drop out of the Berklee College of Music and move to India to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk.

Turtle Feet is Grozni's articulate and thoughtful memoir about his years living in Dharamsala. Though Grozni moved to India to divest himself of his previous identity and devote himself to religious scholarship, it doesn't take long for a new life to begin sprouting in the space he had opened up. Though he does discuss some aspects of his Buddhist training, this book is less about his spiritual discipline than about how he was unexpectedly captivated by the chaotic beauty of Indian village life and the oddball cast of characters he befriends while simultaneously having fantasies of living a hermetic life in a remote cave.

Grozni is a skilled wordsmith with a wry sense of humor and impeccable eye for detail, and it is these talents that make the book both fascinating and a pleasure to read. I was quickly caught up in his colorful descriptions of how he and his other friends eeked out a surprisingly pleasant living in leaky rooms infested by snakes and rats. It becomes apparent very quickly that we need much less to survive than most of us in the West could fathom. Grozni demonstrates that the free time granted by such detachment from materialism creates fruitful ground for other, more satisfying pursuits, including meditations on "the Indian Law of Probabilities, which states that some things happen or don't happen, again and again, for absolutely no reason."

Though Grozni introduces so many characters in the beginning of the book I couldn't keep them all straight, as the story progresses, his attention turns more specifically on his growing friendship with Tsar, a swaggering refugee from the Yugoslav wars. Tsar's quest for a solution to the problem of being an illegal refugee from a country that no longer exists provides an interesting structure for Grozni's musings on the nature of self and identity. His juxtaposition of Tsar's brand of crazy wisdom with the formal lessons of Grozni's official teachers also offers some rich insights.

This is one of those books that makes me wish Goodreads had half stars, for although there are many beautiful and funny moments found in this book, the ending was neither as tight or as satisfying as I had come to expect from the previous pages. But I'm bumping it up to four stars because I admire Grozni's willingness to open himself up in the process of de-mythologizing the world of Tibetan Buddhism and the quest for enlightenment in general. There are a lot of gems to be found here.
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Quotes Lena Liked

Nikolai Grozni
“The mind is a strange thing: it works in secret. Oftentimes the most important decisions in life are made while you're not paying attention.”
Nikolai Grozni, Turtle Feet

Reading Progress

03/22/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Meen (new) - added it

Meen I'm sold! Excellent review, Lena!

Lena I hope you have fun with it. I will warn you, though-it will make you want some chai.

message 3: by Meen (new) - added it

Meen mmmmm, chai...

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