Jill Furedy's Reviews > Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure

Holy Cow by Sarah Macdonald
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's review
Feb 11, 2012

really liked it
Read in February, 2012

This book wasn't what I expected: it was listed as a travelogue, but was more religious study, blurbs mentioned the humor, but while the author has a sense of humor it isn't a particularly funny book. I still found it interesting to read about her travels and her sampling of the buffet of religions in the area. A few reviews I read complained about how she's a spoiled rich white girl looking down on India...but to me, the point of it is the contrast between what she's used to in Austrailia and her new life in India. Yes, in comparison she sees India as dirty, smelly, chaotic...but I expect that would be my impression too given my suburban American background. I fully expect many Indians would be appalled by western behaviors and attitudes upon their initial exposures to it in person. If you've lived somewhere all your life, spending a year or two in a new country may get you acclimated to it but doesn't change the life you've lived up til that point. And the book is about her adventures, not to give a full history or sociological study of India: there are plenty of other books out there for those who want deeper explanations or alternate viewpoints. She still sees India as dirty and chaotic at the end but has grown more accustomed to it and also sees past the filth to the hope, the love, the kindness of many people.
I understand why various members of the religions felt unfairly represented, but I thought she explained fairly well that her encounters didn't encompass the whole of any religion. She gave us a bit of the background as it was explained to her or as she learned it,, but I thought it wa clear we were just hearing about her own experiences and not truly learning the details of each and every belief system. She did the celebrity tour of religious figures conveniently located nearby...and by celebrity, I mean both her status and knowing the right people to get her in the right places (and in better conditions) to see the spectacles, and the celebrity status of the leaders themselves who are both worshipped and made into consumer product lines. While we heard little of the locals version of events, the bits we saw of other nationalities reasons for visiting India, from the religious pilgrims to the partiers, helped fill in some of the other faces in the crowds she was constantly surrounded by.
I did find it strange that we knew more about her girlfriends in India than her husband, who was off on his own adventures covering the middle east conflicts. She mentioned occasionally the strain the separation was putting on their marriage, but didn't show much of that. I suppose that was fine since it wasn't supposed to be the story of her relationship, but it seemed a bit odd.
There were a few parts where the book dragged a little, but for the most part I found it a fascinating tour of the religions and people of India. I don't expect to go there myself, so I like to hear stories of how others see the world, especially those I can relate to in some way (so the world travellers who are used to dealing with different cultures aren't for me!) So unlike those using the book for research for a trip or to compare their own trips to hers, I was content to just hear her story.

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