Book Reviews

India with Backpack and a Prayer


Explore the world's best kept secrets for seekers of a spiritual awakening in this fascinating memoir by Jennifer Brookins. In this unique and personal account, she details her first trip to Northern India, Punjab. Brookins describes her varied travelling experiences, newfound friendships, spiritual lessons and the profound impact those had on her life. The text is supplemented with original color photography and her inspirational poetry. Since early childhood, she sought answers to spiritual questions. During her travels to India, she discovered many answers after meeting Mystics who taught her their philosophy and meditation practice. Follow the former Broadway and television actress on her humbling and transformational journey in India with Backpack and a Prayer, a continuation of her first book Tharon Ann. From the author: “In today's world people are looking for spiritual answers. I searched for the same answers since early childhood and finally found what I was looking for, along with a Great Mystic who taught me about this philosophy. India with Backpack and a Prayer details my first trip to Northern India to a small spiritual community.”

There are many excellent travel narratives that describe the quest for meaning in India and the Far East; Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia,” and William Dalrymple’s “Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India,” are two that come to mind. We can add “India with a Backpack and a Prayer” to the list, though with an important distinction: this book is a multimedia presentation, text interleaved with photographs and original poetry, a combination that feels intimate, interior, as if the author is sitting across a table in a café quietly sharing her experiences rather than crafting prose. The meaning that emerges is that of memoir, i.e., the many ups and downs she has gone through to find the happiness that permeates the narrative, along with the mysterious and beautiful spirituality of four extraordinary people. She organizes the book in four one week chapters, taking us through the sights, sounds, and people of India and the Tarn Taran compound (or Dera) in the northern Indian state of the Punjab. Interspersed throughout are memories, descriptions, and pictures of her life; of Baba Kehar Singh Ji, the Patron of the Tarn Taran Dera; of Maharaja Charan Singh Ji, her spiritual Master and past Patron of the Beas Dera, also in the Punjab; of Mary, an extraordinary American mystic who played a central role in her life; and her husband Doug, a fellow traveler and mystic in his own right. She periodically includes original poems which give the narrative a sense of authenticity and lyricism, as if for a moment she needs to sing to communicate. She says “writing helps me discover parts of my life buried since early childhood,” and one gets the sense the book was motivated “from within,” the experiences seem so natural.

I loved this book, the intimacy, the sense of the spiritual world close by, the interiority of the poetry, and most of all, the mystery of her four adept friends. Highly recommended. ~ Stanocles

Living Under the Weaver's Hut

living under the weaver's hut

Jennifer's unique devotional poetry is inspired by her travels to India while serving in a spiritual community. Her original spiritual verse is accompanied by lovely full color illustrations by artist Ralphie Cratty. One reviewer says, "Jennifer Brookins poems are written in exquisite, lyrical free verse. I can do no better than to quote from Living Under the Weaver's Hut, 'Again and again I turn my face to you. Your darshan weaves feelings in me that moves my heart to prayer.' If you read mystic poetry, i.e Rumi, Hafiz, you will love this book." - Stan Raatz, Ph.D., computer scientist, private equity investor, part-time poet.

Very much in the tradition of Eastern mystic devotional poetry, i.e. that of Rumi, Attar, and others, the book Living Under the Weaver’s Hut contains the author’s songs of spiritual love and longing for her Master, guide, adept, holy person, or in the author’s term, “weaver.” I recently read that Rumi (in translation) is the best selling poet in America, a testament to our universal longing for meaning in today’s frenetic world. These poems, in exquisite and lyric free verse, are one person’s such songs. She makes no claims, offers no doctrine, does not expect the reader to conclude anything other than the poems are written in love to the Weaver. The word “darshan” refers to when a disciple receives the vision of sight of her Master’s glance. I can do no better than to quote from the book, “… again and again I turn my face to you / your darshan weavers feelings in me / that moves my heart / to prayer.” If you read mystic devotional poetry, you will love this book.  ~Stanocles
This book is great read, charming and enlightening, buy this book you will not be disappointed. ~Bruce

Tharon Ann


"Tharon Ann" is a memoir of one woman's life, from orphan, to actress, to mother, to seeker, as the book's byline summarizes. It is written in several voices as her life progresses; the first, her childhood, a voice reminiscent of Faulkner, Williams, and other southern writers; the second, that of an actress who takes us with her into the world of movies, theatre, and television; the third, of a wife and mother who as a single parent, along with her small boys, puts us into the "Old Chevy with a suitcase tied to the top" trekking cross-country to a new life; and finally, the fourth about the richest part of her life, which allows us access into a fantastic journey of the spirit, with openness, humor, and charm. The book is more than a memoir in the traditional sense. It is a road map, a guide on determination, on achievement against all odds on that thing called hope.

This book is an exacting chronicle of an unusual and multifaceted life – as she says, “from orphan, to actress, to mother, to seeker” – with enough harrowing ups and downs for any three people. And what wonderful writing it is! The authorial voice is well-crafted, and as the summary text accompanying the book describes, authentic for each of the periods noted in the subtitle; first, in the dialect of a child raised in the South in the 1930s (in the tradition of great Southern writing), then in the witty and ultimately lonely repartee of the world of television, movies, and the theater (be prepared to laugh you head off, and see some famous people as you’ve never seen them before), next that of a wife and then single mother raising three boys (if you think you’ve had a tough life, wait to you read this), and finally, in the redemptive voice of a seeker of the spirit (with all the depth this word implies). One authentic voice is hard enough for a writer to achieve. The fact that the author realizes four, each distinct and affecting, carries the reader through the emotions and circumstances of the different periods, one after another, as if they followed each other by destiny.

The mark of a great memoir – ok, this is my view, but I’ve read a lot of biography and memoir – is the following, that as a reader you’re left with the feeling of vicarious experience, that the author’s life has somehow become in a small way part of your own. Tharon Ann achieves this result with extraordinary clarity. It’s a fabulous read, and I recommend it with enthusiasm. ~ Stanocles
Tharon Ann is a delightful memoir written in the authentic voices of various periods of the author’s life. Like Tharon Ann, I grew up in the Jim Crow period of southern prejudice, and I relate most of all to the first voice of Tharon Ann as a child. The beginning of the book caught my attention immediately, and I read through to the end with disappointment that, like all good things, it had to end. In other words, the ending left me wanting more. I am encouraged by the mention of a sequel to this book with writing about the author’s spiritual experiences in India. In my opinion, the book could have continued with those experiences, and I would have kept reading.

I enjoy this author, now called Jennifer Brookins, because she recants each phase of her life with truth and humor. In addition to the voice of Tharon Ann, I enjoyed reading about her relationship with her spiritual teacher and the rigors of undertaking a spiritual lifestyle after having been an actress on stage and screen. I enjoyed her stories of famous people such as Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor, and Elia Kazan as she related to them. The only part I felt the need to skim was about her cravings for nicotine. I feel that part of the book could be shortened to one or two sentences. I love the way Jennifer describes her ego and the lack thereof until she realizes it may be more of an issue for her than she had been willing to recognize.

As a follower of Jennifer Brookins on Facebook, I look forward to hear of the sequel to this book so I can enjoy the tales of her travels to India on her spiritual journey.

I highly recommend Tharon Ann for a fun and inspiring true story to enjoy from start to finish. ~
Lillian Nader

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