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Swami on Rye: Max in India

Swami on Rye: Max in India

by Maira Kalman
This book is about the meaning of life.

I don't like to boast, but I have a lot of experience in the life business. I remember what King Tut said to me once, as we were strolling along the Nile on a balmy afternoon:

"Mai Ra [that was my name then], one day you will creat a character who is a dog-poet named Gus [we can't always be right], and you will use him as


This book is about the meaning of life.

I don't like to boast, but I have a lot of experience in the life business. I remember what King Tut said to me once, as we were strolling along the Nile on a balmy afternoon:

"Mai Ra [that was my name then], one day you will creat a character who is a dog-poet named Gus [we can't always be right], and you will use him as a vehicle [and we discussed modes of transportation and I remember clearly we touched on the concept of the wheel, except we called it a veel] to explain the meaning of life. And you will get paid a bargeload of saffron and you will have a large barbecue for all your friends, no hair [?] or locusts will plague you, and you will have The New York Times delivered to your door every day."

I passed through a few hundred more lives, some as a toad, some as a vase, and now here I am. (In the next life I will not have to write flap copy.) I hope you are not having a ritten day, but if you are, I have thrown in a recipe for a hot toddy so all is not lost in the sands, the mist, the misty sandy mists of time.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
``Holy Madras!'' Max the dog, offbeat poet and hirsute hero of such adventures as Max in Hollywood, Baby is back, the locus of perhaps Kalman's most ambitious themes to date. This time Max is a slightly flustered, first-time father-to-be, destined to meet metaphysics head-on in the irreverent form of Vivek Shabaza-zaza-za, self-described suave swami. Before Max can ``spell Mississippi,'' he is swept off to India on a surreal trip worthy of Siddhartha, in search of an answer to that eternally pesky question, ``What (after all) is the meaning (anyway) of life?'' Vivid paintings affectionately (and quirkily) capture exotic delights: golden temples, a two-headed demi-god (in a tetchy mood about his breakfast), rickety rickshaws; in a subtle shift in tone, a double-page spread of women dancing outdoors shimmers with an almost sublime beauty. It's a dreamlike odyssey, but mind-bending is evidently Kalman's mtier. The unexplainable-a rock that turns into a panther that turns into, among other things, a pair of plaid pants-never feels pointless; this is a magic carpet ride, by definition unpredictable. The witty, free-association writing style is enhanced to maximum effect by the varied, cleverly employed typography. A perfect union of place and palette, of dharma, (dog)ma and unsurpassed cosmological kookiness. All ages. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
Once this author's career took off, she began writing about her canine hero, Max, who now appears in his fourth starring role The book begins with Crepes, Max's wife, composing an opera. And, at the same time, like a glowing golden kernel, she was growing. She was pregnant." Max, elated, deflated, ticklish, goes out to fetch her herring snacks and is transported by Vivek Shabaza-zaza-za to far off India where he searches for enlightenment. Here's a sample of Kalman's discourse: I quote the "genial genie, garrulous guru, suave swami" who tells Max, "When we are alive (which we are), we are bound to ask ourselves, as we become parents, or get a horrible stuffyrednose, or worse yet lose our favorite lucky button, 'What (after all) is the Meaning (anyway) of Life? Why? Why? Why are we here? Where did we come from? Where are we going?..." The book continues to ramble through everything from pregnancy to enlightenment. When it became obvious to me that this wasn't a book for children (mine made me stop reading on the first page), I struggled on alone, through too clever word plays, past pseudo-sophisticated jokes about culture, with hasty views of the Taj Mahal thrown in to alleviate Kalman's diatribe that had me fading in and out so often that I remained unenlightened as to the book's purpose and so on edge by its conclusion that I wanted to meditate just to recover. Kalman's quirkiness worked better for me in her visual expression; from the black and white pen and ink sketches on the end covers to the Indian cityscapes crowded with details and people who dance and whirl through the pages.
Children's Literature - Amy Timberlake
"I had to have a herring in a hurry," says Max-Maira Kalman's cosmopolitan dog-as he rushes out to Hairy Harry's Fish Shop to find the fish his pregnant wife, Crepes, craves. But Max is waylaid by a mysterious message and ends up in India on a search for the meaning of life. The latest in a series of "Max" books, this too is wonderfully crazed with a rhythm and movement all it's own. I highly recommend this book. Not just for kids, this book would be a great gift for "artsy" adults.
School Library Journal
Gr 3 Up-Max the dog is on the move again! This time, impending fatherhood catapults him out of his chair in search of ``the stinky herring snacks'' his darling pregnant wife Crpes craves. Hairy Harry's Fish Shop is his intended destination-but not, alas, his destiny. When a woman on the subway hands him a piece of paper-a personal invitation to the Magic Lantern Restaurant-Max, opener of doors, attends. And so, Max meets Vivek (``your genial genie, your garrulous guru, your suave swami''). With him, Max soars toward India on a small carpet and from his new transcendent vantage point looks down with awe at the array of life in the streets below. And readers see it too, in warm rich earth tones and generous strokes of bright color, a double-page painting inviting readers into ``I-Spy,'' as Kalman's text rolls out a litany of descriptions to match the images. Each subsequent page offers a new turn down Max's path to enlightenment-through bits of wordplay and allusion, geography and history, philosophy and poetry, fun and games; through vivid paintings small as postage stamps, framed pictures formal and arresting, images expansive and fanciful. This guided tour is inventive and personal, but, best of all, beyond Max's madcap meanderings there emerges a sense of humor that comes from a knowledge and appreciation of Indian culture. Is this a book for children or an adult picture book? Of course art finds its own audience and those who appreciate Kalman's talents may bring a range of responses to a reading-sophistication, insight, life experience, or a child's simple openness to the surprising way words and images and ideas create mysterious and amusing worlds upon a page. True, this is a book beyond children, in a sense, but it is also one that speaks to all who ``enter in.'' As Max might say, ``Whatabook!''-Susan Powers, Rock Creek Forest Elementary School, Chevy Chase, MD

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
10.28(w) x 8.28(h) x 0.36(d)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

In her own words: "born. bucolic childhood. culture-stuffed adolescence. played piano. stopped. danced. stopped. wrote. discarded writing. drew. reinstated writing. married Tibor Kalman and collaborated at iconoclastic yet successful design studio. wrote and painted children's books. worried. took up Ping-Pong. relaxed. wrote and painted for many magazines.  cofounded the Rubber Band Society. amused. children: two. dog: one."

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
November 15, 1949
Place of Birth:
Tel Aviv, Israel
New York University, 1967-70

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