A question of answers to life
Reviewed by Vikrant Parmar

The Book of Why
by Nicholas Montemarano. Hachette. Pages 325. Rs 299

The Book of WhyThe biggest question in life for most mortals is "why"? And when something titled "why" comes across in the form of a book, curiosity can hardly be kept at bay. Author Nicholas Montemarano's The Book of Why indeed fuels the desire to know more about life, its vicissitudes; struggles, pain, conflict and to counter them all, the coping mechanisms.

With a female German Shepherd Ralph, the lead protagonist Eric Newborn bestselling author of motivational books and inspirational speaker withdraws into a life of loneliness at Martha's Vineyard after losing his wife, Cary, to cancer. As a child, darkness scared him, as an adult darkness of a spouseless life. Belief in his own teachings, which helped many of his followers regenerate their lives, succumb with his wife. All this lasts till one stormy day, when a woman, an avid fan of Eric, Sam Leslie "with a face young and old, dimples and crow's feet" knocks on his door.

The entire action goes back and forth in time, as cosmic connections are weaved into everyday existence and dynamic equilibrium is hinted at. Montemarano's philosophy about the universe as a universal giver that echoes each word we suggest to it comes across as a potent message of a studied, receptive mind. The law of attraction that guides the universe is elaborated upon with astute, incisive skill.

Going down memory lane, incidents of Eric's early childhood are interspersed with his powerful renditions as a motivational speaker. Meaningful lines such as "Happiness is an inside job" or "It's always two stories battling for space in your mind" or "Don't ask why, ask now what" are the ones that stay in the mind for long and induce reflection. Delving deep into etymology, the author breaks down the word "disease" into "dis-ease" and suggests measures to "ease" it all. His suggestions are impressive and workable in real life.

On the flip side, the destination of the eventual plot is unknown and the purpose quite lost in the long speeches. The plot, at times, becomes only interplay of didactic and fictional elements without a clear line of demarcation. Too many time-shifts spawn confusion at one end and disinterest at the other. However, the author's world-view holds things together and the message he wants to send across is astutely delivered.

The narrative technique is direct and impactful, an apt example of which appears in the first line of the text, "This is a self-help book". Indeed it is!