What is Yoga, and why should anyone seek it? Elizabeth Kadetsky attempts to answer this question with a dual narrative in First There is a Mountain. This is Kadetsky’s first book - a part memoir and part biography - and follows a prolific freelance career.
First There is a Mountain is ambitiously designed and meticulously researched but often wobbles unsteadily as Kadetsky hovers between the personal angst which led her to yoga and her journalistic impressions of her guru, the yoga pioneer B.K.S Iyengar. Iyengar is the author of Light on Yoga, the groundbreaking work on yogic asanas and the founder of a style of yoga known the world over as Iyengar Yoga.
The book begins promisingly with a fable about the philosopher Ramanuja and soon takes us to the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, India, where Kadetsky tries to unravel Iyengar’s yoga lineage. While her imagery is majestic, transporting one instantly to another world, Kadetsky liberally intersperses her observations with commentary; her pigeonholing remarks and persistent need to figure out her "foreign" Indian environment deplete the prose of much of its vivacity.
A keen observer, Kadetsky gives the reader an up-close and personal peek at the internal politics, paradoxes and passion enveloping Iyengar’s yoga empire. Still, her bittersweet relationship with India, her yoga mentor and his children constantly cloud the narrative. While life does not read like a story with a beginning, middle and end, most books that touch us are typically very centered in approach; Kadetsky’s lack of focus make it hard to take the journal-style entries seriously.
Iyengar comes across as a caricature – neither his follies nor his mesmerizing charm penetrates the haze of anecdotal plenty - while Kadetsky’s numerous personal issues never quite go away. It is perhaps this lack of resolution that leaves one with an unsettled feeling even after her valiant attempt in the end to integrate her journeys into a (rather un-incubated and abrupt) spiritual Eureka.