Snake Lake

Snake Lake

by Jeff Greenwald

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In a circular valley beneath the looming peaks of the Himalaya lies Kathmandu, Nepal. It’s a city of shimmering prayer flags, sacred cows, lavish festivals, and violent political turbulence—and a world that journalist Jeff Greenwald has come to call home.

Snake Lake unfolds during 1990’s dramatic “people power” uprising

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In a circular valley beneath the looming peaks of the Himalaya lies Kathmandu, Nepal. It’s a city of shimmering prayer flags, sacred cows, lavish festivals, and violent political turbulence—and a world that journalist Jeff Greenwald has come to call home.

Snake Lake unfolds during 1990’s dramatic “people power” uprising against Nepal’s long-entrenched monarchy. The story follows Greenwald as he wins the friendship of a high lama who reveals the pillars of Tibetan Buddhism; embarks on a passionate romance with a spunky but curiously unlucky news photographer; and discovers what democracy means to rural Nepali citizens—all while covering the revolution for a major American newspaper. Meanwhile, back in the U.S., Greenwald’s brilliant but troubled younger brother descends into a deepening depression. The author is forced to choose between witnessing Nepal’s long-overdue revolution and reconnecting with an alienated brother in desperate need of help.

Snake Lake is primarily a memoir (though the roles of several characters have been recast). Focused on the life-changing events that unfolded during one calamitous spring, the book weaves a vivid tapestry of Buddhism, revolution, and the often serpentine paths to personal liberation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for Snake Lake

"[Snake Lake] rips into revolution and romance, death, and dharma." —Shambhala Sun

"Snake Lake is not only an exploration of the depths of loss and a tender portrait of different kinds of love, it's the fruit of many years of coming to know Nepal with an intimacy few travelers attain. A beautiful and moving book." —Henry Shukman, author of The Lost City and Mortimer of the Maghreb

"Greenwald has a gift for electrifying descriptions of the profound intricacy of the world and the mind. His portrait of his erudite, inscrutable, and doomed brother and keenly illuminating memoir of place, spirit, love, and brotherhood are unforgettable." —Booklist

“Greenwald’s tale is masterfully multi-layered . . . As events political and personal unfold, Greenwald interweaves the evolving tale of the [Kathmandu] revolution with his own emotional odyssey through death and love toward enlightenment. In the end, his arduous journey deeply illumines our own.” —National Geographic (Book of the Month for October)

"Absorbing." —Kirkus

"Travel writer Jeff Greenwald’s most compelling journey yet. Set against a backdrop of revolution in Nepal, twin narratives—the author's introduction to Buddhism and his brother's suicide—form a compelling caduceus (note clever snake symbolism) of deepening mystery. This is a brave, honest, vivid, and thoughtful book." —Mary Roach

“Jeff Greenwald has always been a great travel writer, but in Snake Lake he transcends the genre by taking us on a perilous journey through the human heart. By turns poignant and hilarious, Greenwald molds the dramas of his life into teaching stories, filled with both passion and wisdom.” —Wes Nisker, author of The Essential Crazy Wisdom

“Funny, informative, sad and precise, this is the best new travel narrative I’ve read in years.” —Tim Cahill, author of Jaguars Ripped My Flesh and Hold the Enlightenment

Publishers Weekly
Political drama in exotic Nepal is intruded upon by personal psychodrama in this feckless memoir. Journalist Greenwald (Shopping for Buddhas) spent the spring of 1990 reporting from Kathmandu as opposition to Nepal's repressive monarchy boiled over into violence. The setting offered Greenwald political adrenaline, lush atmospherics, romance and spirituality as he began a torrid affair with an expat photojournalist and took instruction from a Buddhist sage. (Sample teaching: "‘the cause of samsara, of rebirth and suffering, is ego.'") But the meltdown of his depressed brother Jordan drags him away just as the Nepalese revolution is heating up--and shunts the memoir into an odd portrait of American neurosis. Jordan is a mannered, haughty figure, a brilliant linguist who disdains popular culture, speaks in antique diction--"No man; no beast; no creature of the sea is as wretched as I"--and infuriates people by mimicking them; his hidden sexual dysfunction is the uninvolving mystery at the book's heart. Greenwald tells the story in novelistic style, with reams of verbatim dialogue, but the narrative's moving parts clash instead of resonating; they are like random detours on the author's rather callow spiritual journey. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews

A journalist struggles to balance the complications of love and family in a foreign land.

Greenwald (Scratching the Surface, 2008, etc.) recounts his experiences as a reporter in 1990s Kathmandu. After falling for a news photographer named Grace, the pair of Americans began reporting on political protests, which had broken out throughout the capital, while attempting to keep their personal problems at bay. Yet with the arrival of a letter from his depressed younger brother, the story veers from travel memoir into the psychological study of a young man wholly disconnected from his world. "Social intercourse, for Jordan, was a kind of mad experiment," writes Greenwald, "and the human race supplied him with an ever-changing pool of subjects." The author describes his brother as a "behaviorist Houdini," though his bizarre behavior eventually resulted in his suicide. Two days prior to Jordan's death, Greenwald left his girlfriend, job and Buddhist studies to support his brother in California. While the author's interactions with Jordan are riveting, they are indicative of the author's vacillation between narratives. More troubling is his admission that the book is "primarily a memoir, and partly a work of fiction." This uncertainty undermines the validity of the story, causing the reader to question the author's credibility. The relationship between the brothers is often engaging, but the Nepalese backdrop feels like little more than a convenient locale. The heart of the book resides not in the political upheaval of Nepal, but rather in the emotional upheaval between two far-flung, distant brothers.

Absorbing but highly uneven.

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Product Details

Counterpoint Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

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