The Holy Man
by Susan Trott

Riverhead Books, New York, NY, 1995. ISBN 1573225320.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 10/24/2005

Fiction: Spirituality

What do you do when sleep eludes you? Many "count sheep" but, Susan Trott chose a different way to deal with her insomnia. She began to envision a "Holy Man" and the pilgrims who would make their trek to see him to gain wisdom and understanding. Woven with bits of Buddhist philosophy, this engaging little book is a set of thirty four vignettes—each depicting a different character flaw in mankind. Each character flaw in turn becomes the perfect springboard for a story of enlightenment.

Author Susan Trott has written several novels including The Housewife and the Assassin, Don't Tell Laura, Incognito, and Sightings to name just a few. Her work has received praise from The San Francisco Chronicle and The Bloomsbury Review. Her writing is published around the world. Some has been optioned for motion pictures.

Joe is a quiet soul. He lives with several other monks in a hermitage on a nameless mountain top. Every summer, he welcomes the many pilgrims who travel to the mountain top to see him. Every year, more pilgrims come and the wait to see The Holy Man becomes longer. During the waiting period, human nature being what it is, stories within the story unfold. Sometimes a pilgrim has already learned a valuable lesson by the time he or she arrives at the door of the hermitage to see Joe.

The grandmother who never receives thank you notes from grandchildren, the man whose jealousy is all-consuming, the alcoholic, the veteran who can't forgive himself for the loss of life he contributed to during the war, the impatient woman, the self-absorbed "famous person"—all of these characters and many more make up a cast of incredibly human individuals. Readers are sure to see a bit of themselves or someone they know within these brief chapters.

Each character's story and redemption is told in an engaging manner reminiscent of a fable. Human frailties are exposed, character flaws are mended, and pilgrims go back out into the world as changed beings because of their experiences along to path to The Holy Man. Everyday concerns are examined with gentle wit, profound wisdom, and simplicity.

When the days become shorter and the temperatures become too cold for people to wait for days and days to see The Holy Man, Joe begins his own period of silence, solitude and reflection. He envisions the people who passed through his home during the summer—he imagines the changed lives they are living and creating.

As Trott brings this delightful tale to a close, she leaves her reader with a sense that there just has to be a sequel in the making... and, in fact, she did write a sequel (The Holy Man's Journey) which was published in 1997. It too is an engaging little book—but that is a book review for another day!

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