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In Hanuman's Hands
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In Hanuman's Hands

5.0 2
by Cheeni Rao

"I can do nothing more for you. You are now in Hanuman's hands." These are the words author Cheeni Rao hears his Indian immigrant mother sob as he stands locked outside his family home. A brilliant, promising young man who is the product of a devout Hindu family from a long line of Brahmin priests, Rao has been reduced to the life of a homeless drug addict and


"I can do nothing more for you. You are now in Hanuman's hands." These are the words author Cheeni Rao hears his Indian immigrant mother sob as he stands locked outside his family home. A brilliant, promising young man who is the product of a devout Hindu family from a long line of Brahmin priests, Rao has been reduced to the life of a homeless drug addict and petty criminal on the back streets of Chicago's Southside.

The freedoms and temptations of life on an elite American college campus send Rao spiraling down into a hedonistic nightmare of drugs, sex, and crime. Desperate and alone, he is visited by Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god his mother evoked, and comes to realize that this unlikely guide may be his last resort. On his long journey to recovery, Rao is guided by visions of this clever, divine monkey, best known from the Indian epic poem, the Ramayana.

In Hanuman's Hands is a gritty, hauntingly beautiful memoir. Bringing India whole-heartedly into America, Rao weaves his own story of Western culture clash with mythic tales of his Hindu ancestors who served in the ancestral temples of Kali. With Hanuman as his loyal companion, the author finds his way back to recovery at a halfway house run by a mug named Tats and shared by an unforgettable gang of streetwise characters. In Hanuman's Hands is a striking debut from a new literary voice.

Editorial Reviews

Wall Street Journal
In Hanuman’s Hands beguiles.
Booklist (starred review)
It is the rapture of [Rao’s] language; his hallucinatory, world-bridging storytelling;and his high-wire variations on the timeless struggles between truth and deception, good and evil, that make this journey to hell and back all-consuming and profound.
USA Today (Recommended Summer Books Issue)
Writer tells of his spiral into drug addiction and how his ‘visions’ of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman helped him find the path to a cure.
Boston Sunday Globe
[A] harrowing, skillfully written account of a young man’s descent into drug addiction, crime, and homelessness and the difficult, uncertain path toward recovery.
New York Daily News
The son of a long line of Brahmin nobility finds a path to hell with drugs and sex. In Hanuman’s Hands is a recovery story enriched by the culture Rao draws on for strength.
Washington Post
A descendant of generations of Brahmin priests, Cheeni Rao chose a tragic path to enlightenment. His powerful memoir, “In Hanuman’s Hands,” describes in harrowing detail Rao’s troubles with crack addiction and the spiritual awakening that led to his recovery.
Chicago Sun-Times
A drug-related memoir that contains any original material whatsoever will stand out, all the more so if eloquent, socially insightful, and laced with self-deprecating humor. Such is the case with In Hanuman’s Hands, by Chicago native Cheeni Rao.
Creative Loafing
Just when you thought the memoir genre had been exhausted, here comes In Hanuman’s Hands, an ingenious book by an exciting new writer.
Read the Spirit
“A gripping new book by a hot young Indian-American writer.”
The Brooklyn Rail
“A skillfully written memoir...entertaining and well-wrought.”
Larry Heinemann
Here is a fine mind at work . . . It is a story about the pleasures and problems of love and loyalty, and making one’s way in the world to and through difficult crossroads and milestones. In Hanuman’s Hands is a fine piece of work.
Lewis Robinson
There is so much here that I admire. This is the book I want to read.
John Murray
I enjoyed this tremendously. This is an important, incredible story.
Lan Samantha Chang
I could go on all day about how impressed I am with this. I gave myself over as a reader and I was richly rewarded.
Amy Hassinger
I really love this. I think it is absolutely breathtaking, and the scenes he depicts make everything come vibrantly off the page. I can’t wait to see this in print.
Elizabeth McCracken
What terrific writing! I would follow Cheeni anywhere.
Stuart Dybeck
This was hard to stop reading. Life on the streets evokes a dream, and its integration with mythology, especially the connection between the old gods and getting high, shows rare skill.
ZZ Packer
This is rich material. A story that reveals that nothing can be fully understood because everyone has their own motivations, and these in turn interfere with and obscure the motivations of others.
Philip Lutgendorf
“As beautifully written as it is often viscerally unsettling.”
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Though he was born in America, Rao learned many lessons the summers he visited India -- among them, that he was born into a family of Brahmin priests and was blessed with divine blood. Not quite ready for the unique responsibilities attached to his inheritance, Rao turned his attention elsewhere. Better the new world of intoxication and petty crime than the old one of Kashmiri ancestors and ancient mythology; better an elite American college than a crumbling temple.

Better, you ask? Jettisoned from that elite college, a no-show at drug treatment, Rao stands outside his family home, howling. "I can do nothing for you," his immigrant mother cries. "You are now in Hanuman's hands." Sick, addicted, more familiar with a crack pipe than with the old ways, he begins an arduous journey to wholeness. Along the way, he's accompanied by Hanuman, the Hindu trickster monkey his mother invoked, and realizes with a sickening dread that his newest companion may be his best -- or his last -- hope.

Guided by surreal visions from the epic poem the Ramayana, Rao weaves a story of Western culture at war with his Hindu blood. Placing the mythic stories of ancient India flush with a life of hedonism, Rao navigates seemingly impossible terrain. But with the help of Hanuman, a strange man named Tats, and a halfway house in Chicago, Rao might just have found his way back. (Summer 2009 Selection)
Publishers Weekly

When Rao describes his experiences as a homeless drug addict on the streets of Chicago as a battle for his soul between the Hindu gods Hanuman and Kali, it's easy to dismiss his assertions as evidence of a mental breakdown-even he entertains that possibility. But it's this divine intervention, the culmination of a family mythology handed down over generations, that gives Rao the strength to tackle his recovery: "I'll be straight because that's what Hanuman wants," he tells a therapist. "He'll kick my ass if I fuck up again." The multilayered narrative skillfully shifts between Rao's downward spiral that kicked into high gear during his freshman year of college, his first months at a no-nonsense halfway house and stories from his Indian ancestors. Even readers who have become jaded to the generic conventions of the addiction memoir-criminal acts to support the growing habit, pushing away one's closest friends and so on-will find themselves engrossed in Rao's spiritual journey, from the descent into a very personal hell to the slow climb back. (Rao returned to college and eventually graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.) Wherever his writing goes from here, this powerful debut is a signal to pay attention. (May)

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Library Journal

Rao became addicted to drugs at his prestigious college; his father, a gifted doctor from India, could only stand by helplessly as his youngest son took up a life of crack cocaine, petty crime, and violence. Highs, overdoses, and the struggle to recover opened Rao's mind to visions of Hanuman, a deified monkey of the Ramayana (the Indian Iliad), who, despite Rao's resistance, showed him a new way of living. Rich material overcomes the occasional missed beat in this haunting debut.
—Elizabeth Brinkley

Kirkus Reviews
Cultures clash as Hindu gods take center stage against a backdrop of modern American drug addiction. For Indian-American Rao, growing up was a cultural tug of war. He was caught between the gritty reality of Southside Chicago, with its sensuality, vanity and materialism, and the highly ordered Hindu universe of strict religious adherence. With a devout Hindu father who made significant sacrifices to become a doctor in America, the household was a fortress of tradition. "Our lives would never be tainted by the confusion and doubt that plagued the Western mind," writes the author. "We had been provided a rule book and a script for our lives. Only a fool would disregard a perfect system refined by centuries of pious living." Unable to reconcile his strictly traditional heritage with his increasingly American identity, Rao became a spiritual vagabond and a chameleon, able to change roles to suit any occasion. Petty drug dealing earned him respect among his peers, but he soon slipped into cocaine and then crack abuse, which served as a shelter from his cultural confusion. He continued to spiral downward, with the next hit of crack becoming the entire focus of his being. Amid the throes of addiction, Rao discovered that he played an important part in an ancient myth in which his ancestors were struck by a curse. Through drug visions, Rao found transcendental powers to evoke the god Hanuman, from the epic poem the Ramayana. But not the "happy little Hanuman . . . Mine had fists of ill will and steel wool for fur, and he came from the version of the Ramayana where Rama is a crackhead and Hanuman is his formerly rock-smoking sponsor." He believed that only the protective powers of Hanuman couldrelease him from drug addiction and the timeless curse passed on by his ancestors. Ultimately he found redemption, and he provides a deft combination of drug-addiction and spiritual-quest memoir. Unraveling through alleyways, crack houses and treatment centers, Rao's story provocatively blurs the lines between myth and reality.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)

Meet the Author

Cheeni Rao is a graduate of the University of Chicago as well as the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He is a winner of the Nick Adams Award for fiction and the Olga and Paul Menn Foundation Prize for fiction, and has had many of his stories published in nationally distributed journals. His three plays, Phone, Broken Circle, and Islands, were produced by The Asian Theatre Project, and he has had a screenplay optioned by a major Hollywood studio. He is the founder and owner of The Iowa Book Doctors, an editing firm that edits and ghostwrites manuscripts for publication and conducts online one-on-one instruction on the craft of writing.

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In Hanuman's Hands 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
ariesbooklover More than 1 year ago
I have never found a memoir that I have liked enough to finish until Cheeni Rao came along. He paints vivid pictures of Hindu myths and drug addiction. I was absorbed by page one and contuined to be absorbed to the end. I highly recommend this book.
NedSmith More than 1 year ago
Junkie Lit, fraught with literary fraudsters, has become something of a cottage industry with its tales of the endless cycle of rehab, relapse and redemption. This tired genre has now found redemption itself in Cheeni Rao's memoir of his own battle with the dark side, In Hanuman's Hands. All addicts have a monkey on one sort or another on their backs. In Rao's case, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is a Hindu monkey god named Hanuman. This not a book that resorts to voyeuristic detail to hook the reader; what lifts Rao's work into the realm of art is his ability to bring you inside his own personal heart of darkness and share his hallucinatory horrors. It's not a pretty picture. Nor is it an easy read; wending your way through an unfamiliar Hindu hagiography with a cast of thousands can be a tough slog at times. But the payoff is worth it.