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A Journey with Elsa Cloud

About the Book

A Journey with Elsa Cloud

In A Journey with Elsa Cloud, Leila Hadley unfolds an absorbing tale of a poignant mother-daughter relationship amid the kaleidoscopic backdrop of the Indian subcontinent during the 1970s. Leila's daughter, Veronica, is among the vanguard of counterculture self-seekers who have settled in Dharamsala, the Tibetan capital-in-exile, in order to study Buddhism with the Dalai Lama's court. But while she accepts her daughter's Buddhist ideology, it's hard for Leila not to take this rejection of her home country's culture as a rejection of herself as well. She jumps at an invitation to visit Veronica, and the two go on an extended exploration of India as a means of repairing past estrangements. It is an irony of the book that what makes Leila's journey so rewarding for the reader is also at times what continues to distance the pair.

Leila's insatiable thirst for connections causes an encyclopedic storehouse of memories and ideas to be triggered in her mind by the images and objects they encounter along the way. Whether they are wandering ancient ruins, paddling over remote lagoons, shopping in crowded urban markets, learning the intricacies of local industries, attending religious festivals, or interacting with any of the dizzying cross section of Indian peoples they encounter along the way, Leila's active intelligence drives her to connect what she sees with personal memories, historic contexts, larger cultural perspectives, posited links to the West, and downright free associations.

Veronica is of an opposing temperament. Nicknamed Elsa Cloud after a childhood statement, "I'd like to be the sea, the jungle, or else a cloud," she seeks detachment rather than connections. She possesses the uncluttered state of a mind contained entirely within the present. "Don't you ever see things just as they are, now?" she asks her mother. "Why does everything always remind you of something else?" It is an admirable goal that Veronica seeks, but one that, for her mother, keeps her tantalizingly out of reach. Only over the course of their months-long exploration do the recriminations and misunderstandings of the past slowly trickle out of the closet.

Over the course of their magnificent exploration of "all the circumstances of a remote time and place," mother and daughter engage in the equally fascinating journey back toward one another. To be allowed to participate in the process with them through the medium of Leila Hadley's sharp observation and sensual prose is a singular experience that reveals much about India, humanity, and the most essential connections between people.

A Journey with Elsa Cloud
by Leila Hadley

  • Publication Date: November 1, 1998
  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0140275371
  • ISBN-13: 9780140275377