Flawed and floundering, but also insightful and moving
“The Spirit Sherpa,” a spiritual novel by Marc Littman, feels like simultaneously watching “Beetlejuice” and “Schindler’s List.” Chapters alternate between bizarre between-life scenes, and heart-tugging depictions of the hero’s many lives (including several concurrent ones). Although flawed, the novel offers enough insight to keep the reader engaged.
Story: A self-absorbed bigoted man killed in a road rage accident must learn the essence of spirituality and universal love through a revolving door of adventurous lives that play out in the past, present and future along with respites in-between on the other side of the veil in The Spirit Sherpa. Historical vignettes, action, mystery and humor are blended in this intriguing story that bends time. The celestial traveler is escorted on his journey by a mysterious spirit sherpa who holds the key to helping him dump the emotional baggage and fear he has been burdened with through time. (From amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Littman offers a one-paragraph description of how his hero dies and then dumps Manus into a high-octane version of purgatory. There Manus must internalize life lessons before he can pass to the Other Side (presumably Heaven) for a little “R & R, if you please, with some reflection and re-education blended in.” He meets his spirit sherpa, his great-grandmother Oma. She guides him through a life review and discussions with family members, and they meet his own personal wise men: Elvis, Wilt Chamberlain, and Einstein, who explains that time is not linear and that Manus is living (and reviewing) many parallel lives, some in the future and some in which he’s still alive as a different person. Littman uses Einstein to articulate his views on metaphysics and quantum mechanics, which works quite nicely as a way to add color and interest to challenging scientific detail.
Many of the chapters are vignettes from past, present, and even future lives that have the feel of a YouTube video in their honesty and veracity. I was intrigued by Littman’s premise that multiple lives play out simultaneously; several of the most interesting vignettes describe overlapping lifetimes from the 20th century.
Littman offers many observations about what awaits on the Other Side: Angels traveling to other planets and dimensions. Master spirits sowing inspiration for scientific breakthroughs or perhaps a new melody in our subconscious minds. How the dead use visions and dreams to comfort family and help them move on. How a spirit experiences multiple concurrent lives. Most important is Manus’ exploration of the many facets of love; he must learn that love survives life, and that it’s the only thing that truly matters. When Manus finally recognizes his soul mate, he is able to let go and move beyond the prejudices that so confound his most recent incarnation.
My take: Did I enjoy this book, or was it an awkward read? Both, in frustrating and baffling turns. Littman alternates between graceless chapters set in purgatory and slice-of-life vignettes that can be profoundly moving. First, the good, which sometimes verges on very good.
For the most part, the life stories are compelling: Unexpected generosity in a cattle car headed to Auschwitz. A hard-won ghetto park in honor of the hero’s fallen son. A lovely tale of star-crossed soul mates–a Muslim boy and Yazidi girl–that ends in death and rebirth.
In addition, Littman delivers a range of religious perspectives, from the Yiddish Oma to a relatively obscure religious sect in Iran. He incorporates a Sikh as a major character. He presents Jerusalem through the eyes of a Muslim. His emphasis on religious diversity is very refreshing compared to many novels, even those within the spiritual genre.
Littman has done his homework; he judiciously adds telling historical details that imbue his characters with credibility and vitality. By focusing more on Manus’ concurrent modern lives, the novel feels more relevant, relatable, and culturally eclectic than many reincarnation novels. The vignette chapters feel honest to the reader–unlike the roller coaster of heaven/hell/purgatory that Manus and Oma traverse. Even Littman’s back-to-the-future moments work reasonably well.
Then there’s the not-so-good. In the purgatory chapters, Littman’s writing style and choices leave the reader feeling whip-sawed and on the verge of vertigo, such as using multiple points of view and adding anachronisms that jar the mind’s eye. Purgatory is a jumble of clashing sounds and images that is hard for the reader to follow.
The plot unravels Manus’ karmic relationships over millenia and the family influences turn him into a jerk of the highest order. However, some threads fray, several are never tied off, and it’s difficult to keep track of the many characters. Major characterizations are equally uneven–some seem finely etched in ink, others scribbled in crayon.
While many of the incarnation chapters are truly moving, the between-life interludes seem not only divorced from reality but also from coherence. In the end, the novel is deeply flawed but offersed enough insight to keep me turning the pages.
The Spirit Sherpa, by Marc Littman
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