In his latest book, Arjun and the Good Snake, author Rick Harsch takes off the gloves and gives himself a good pounding. In equal parts a memoir, a confession, and an ophidiological dissertation, the book is an unsparing account of a man (Harsch) struggling to come to grips with his fragmented mind, his excesses, and his humanity, as he and his son wander the wilds of India on a holy grail snake quest.
This is not a book for the casual reader or the considerably unlearned, but you should definitely take up the challenge and give it a read. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cringe, you’ll shake your head sadly, you may even want to crawl on your belly backward, but you won’t soon forget Arjun and the Good Snake.
This is an ultimately moving story, a powerful and affecting exploration of a troubled man’s love for his little boy, but it’s also replete with riveting scenes and sub-stories about people’s (including the author’s) encounters with deadly snakes. Along the way, Harsch offers up an abundance of fascinating personal, psychological, cultural, and historical observations and insights – often disturbing, often hilarious, often challenging, always pulsing with a staggering, one-of-a-kind intelligence. Reminiscent of William T. Vollman in its brilliant, eccentric probings into both brain and underbelly, this is a richly rewarding book. Highly recommended.
Arjun happens to be a recovery memoir and self-discovery travelogue, and yet it’s so much better than what usually oozes out under the banner of those once-noble genres that I’m reluctant to even mention that. It’s real and bravely revealing without being cloying, packed with an obsessive’s intensive research on snakes and Indian mythology, and cigarette- and Slovenian wine-fueled philosophizing on fatherhood, politics, The Meaning of Life, and a lot of other things, the interesting guy in the bar you keep buying drinks for even though you shouldn’t (for his sake) just because you don’t want him to leave or stop talking, or punch you. Yes, I know this makes no sense, and Arjun shouldn’t but it does, beautifully.