Monday, June 27, 2016

Greetings from Utopia Park by Claire Hoffman - #review

In this engrossing memoir, Claire Hoffman recounts the remarkable years she spent growing up in an increasingly isolated meditation community in the American heartland.

When Claire Hoffman’s alcoholic father abandons his family, his struggling wife, Liz, tells five-year-old Claire and her seven-year-old brother, Stacey, that they are going to heaven—Iowa—to live in Maharishi’s national headquarters for Heaven on Earth. For Claire’s mother, Transcendental Meditation—Maharishi’s method of meditation and his approach to living the fullest possible life—promises world peace and Enlightenment just as their family is falling apart.

At first this secluded utopia offers warmth and support, and makes these outsiders feel calm, secure, and connected to the world. At the Maharishi School, Claire learns Maharishi’s philosophy for living and meditates with her class. With the promise of peace and Enlightenment constantly on the horizon, every day is infused with magic and meaning. But as Claire and Stacey mature, their adolescent skepticism kicks in, drawing them away from the community and into delinquency and drugs. To save herself, Claire moves to California to live with her father, breaking from Maharishi completely. After she works for a decade in journalism and academia, the challenges of adulthood propel her back to Iowa, where she reexamines her spiritual upbringing and tries to reconnect with the magic of her childhood.

Greetings from Utopia Park takes us deep into a complex, unusual world, illuminating its joys and comforts as well as its disturbing problems. While there is no utopia on earth, Hoffman finds, there are noble goals worth striving for: believing in belief itself, finding inner peace, and reaching a firm understanding that there is a larger fabric of the universe to which we all belong.



I had never really known much, if anything, about Transcendental Meditation (TM), except for aligning the term with hippies and flower children in the 60's, so I was glad to have this opportunity to learn more about the practice.  The author, Claire Hoffman, tells of growing up in the TM community, leaving and in a sense, coming back later as an adult.

My mother was raised a Christian Scientist by her mother, and she continued the practice with my brother and me.  Around the age of 12, I began to question what I had been taught my whole life, and there were some things I could not reconcile, and so 'left' the practice.  Maybe, like Ms. Hoffman, I began to notice the gulf between the tenets of the religion and the practice of some of its adherents.

And from what I can tell, TM was started with at least a hope of making things better.  The chance to live in a close-knit community of like believers would certainly attract many people from all walks of life.

Somewhere along the line, it appears that the practice became more important than the substance.  The more you could pay for classes or schooling, or the more money you could donate seemed to buy closer access to Maharishi and/or a higher spiritual plane.  It seemed to me that the worship factor changed focus from the divine to a man.

Ms. Hoffman opens her story for us to read, and gives us a nifty bit of history along with it.  Her writing style made her history very readable.  Sometimes non-fiction can read very academically, and thus perhaps be somewhat dry.  I was so pleased that that was not the case with Greetings from Utopia Park, which was both entertaining and educational.

It is interesting to me that the practice of meditation has been scientifically proven to (be able to) provide the benefits that its practitioners over the centuries have claimed.  We are told to "breath slowly" when we need to relax.  And you don't have to be sitting cross-legged or lying supine do reap the benefits of visualization.

In my rural area, people talk about getting the news 'straight from the horse's mouth'.  I've always felt more comfortable getting the real story from someone who has lived in a situation (or place, etc.) rather than someone who has 'merely' studied the topic.  Ms. Hoffman is my kind of expert.



Claire Hoffman writes for national magazines and holds a Master’s degree in Religion from the University of Chicago, and a Master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University. She was a staff reporter for the Los Angeles Times and has reported for the New York Times. She serves on the board of her family foundation, the Goldhirsh Foundation, as well as ProPublica and the Columbia Journalism School. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

Find out more about Claire at her website and follow her on Twitter.


Click on the button to go to the tour page, where you will find links to more reviews of Greetings From Utopia Park.  You can also find out how to become a blog host for future book tours while you are there!

(Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the author and publishers via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  This post contains affiliate links.)


  1. This sounds like a fascinating review. I enjoyed learning about the book and hearing your thoughts made me very intrigued. This isn't something I know a lot about- so I am very curious. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Sounds like a great thought provoking and insightful book. Meditation is a powerful tool and it helps to become aware of your thoughts and mental processes and forces one to disidentify with their mind and emotions. It's not an easy journey but the one that's very enriching and satisfying. And it is advocated in Indian scriptures and is practiced by the rishis and saints for times immemorial. I'd like to check out this book too. Thanks for sharing, LuAnn :)

  3. She's my kind of expert as well, and I look forward to learning from her!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  4. This sounds pretty interesting to me because it's discussing something that involves a lot of people today - the difference between religion and what it really means to be part of it. Is it really for the better or not? Interesting...