Novel is short on story and long on instruction, but it’s an easy, rewarding read
In “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari,” Robin S. Sharma clothes sound advice for spiritual and personal growth in a thin mantle of fiction that delivers much instruction but minimal entertainment. However, Sharma’s fictional approach makes for an easy read and good retention of his key principles.
Story: After a heart attack nearly kills him, a high-powered lawyer treks to India to learn how to live a more meaningful life. Months later, he returns to the West and recounts the story of seven principles and practices that can help anyone experience true happiness. (From goodreads.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: The narrator spends one revelation-filled night with Julian Mantle learning the fundamentals of spiritual growth. Julian imparts everything he has learned from his time with the Sivana monks, cramming a lifetime of wisdom into their short time together. Sharma structures the lessons into seven chapters based on a short fable full of symbols. Each symbol represents a key idea from the Seven Basic Principles for Enlightened Living. Each chapter ends with an action page that summarizes the symbol, what you need to remember, and techniques to try, such as the Ten Rituals for Radiant Living.
My take: Sharma calls his book a “fable” in the subtitle, but it is both more and less than that. The fable part takes place in the opening chapters of the book, in which we discover that the hard-driven attorney has moved to India, become a monk, and after three years has returned to pass on his wisdom to his protégé. That’s the extent of the story, and character development fares little better. As a work of fiction, the book leaves much to be desired.
However, as a collection of easy-to-digest life strategies and pearls of wisdom, the book is quite satisfying. Sharma has organized the book around a short fable about a garden full of symbols (a fable within a fable), which makes it easy to understand and follow his 30-day plan to enlightened living. The give-and-take of dialog between Julian Mantle and his student rescues the story from the tedium of an instructional guide. If your primary goal as a reader is to quickly absorb the core of Sharma’s life improvement teaching, then this book is a great place to start.
A brief editorial aside: Paulo Coelho calls the book “A captivating story that teaches as it delights.” Yes, that is the intent of Sharma’s fable. However, the story falls far short of “delight” if you are expecting a good work of fiction. The success of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari as an international bestseller illustrates once more that readers truly want “captivating stories that teach as they delight,” to borrow Coelho’s phrase. Why are there not more good writers producing new age novels that truly do teach and delight?
My search for high-quality new age fiction has turned up multiple writers such as Garth Stein, James Redfield, and Dorothy Bryant, and notable new age novels such as Ferney and Downward Dog, Upward Fog. But the search has been difficult for several reasons, including the lack of a clearly defined genre for spiritually agnostic fiction that makes it easy to find, and a lack of opportunities for new age writers to publish and promote their work to mainstream audiences. I believe that an eager audience awaits many great works of new age fiction that have yet to be discovered; once they are, I am convinced this new genre will regularly hit the bestseller lists. We as writers need to strive for that perfect balance of captivating story and effective education. When we figure it out, the rewards will be substantial.
The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams & Reaching Your Destiny, by Robin S. Sharma
Published by Harper San Francisco, 1999
Paperback, 198 pages
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