Sometimes you aren’t ready for your spiritual journey until it hits you in the head.
In Louis Greenstein’s latest novel, The Song of Life, 24-year-old Margaret Holly springs into a seven-year spiritual odyssey after a Hindu scripture known as Bhagavad Gita hits her in the head.
After that, a mystical & magical journey of self-discovery awaits. Wait until you check this thing out. Not only is it a SUNNY award winner for 2020, but it’s been receiving rave reviews from some of our favorite people, like Robin Black, author of Life Drawing: “Sparkling with insight, this is a wholly original, deeply felt novel of nothing less important than the meaning of our lives. Brimming with memorable characters on journeys both spiritual and quotidian, The Song of Life sings of our searching, seeking souls.”
Because I know there’s a ton of thought-provoking content in this novel, I wanted to chat with author Louis Greenstein about the Hindu scripture, spiritual odysseys, humor, and more in The Song of Life.
A Spiritual Odyssey with the Bhagavad Gita | An Interview with Louis Greenstein
Interview with Louis Greenstein
Questions by Joe Walters
Q: Where were the first seeds of this novel sowed? And what were you thinking as you first put pen to paper to create The Song of Life?
A: I started working on The Song of Life because I am fascinated by the mind, by how our ego — that voice in our heads — races back and forth, constantly pulling us out of the present moment, which causes suffering. I’ve been practicing meditation for a long time (and I hope one day to be good at it!) and wanted to write about the discipline in a way that didn’t come off as preachy or pedantic. I wanted to approach this topic by telling a good story with some humor in it.
Q: Where in the brainstorming process did the Bhagavad Gita’s role in this novel come into play? Why choose this scripture over others?
A: In the neighborhood where I used to live there was a young woman who walked around carrying a Bhagavad Gita. I liked that image. If that woman had been carrying a Bible or a Koran, who knows? But the Gita is a remarkable book, a dialogue about life and death, creation and destruction, love and war. It’s relevant for our age, it’s accessible, it’s short, and I recommend it!
Q: The number seven is often considered a highly spiritual number. Did this play a role in your choice to have Margaret’s journey span seven years? What is it about this number that seemed like the right fit?
A: Margaret’s journey was almost twice that in early drafts, but a couple members of my writers group felt that her journey was too long and didn’t feel believable. So I cut it back. At some point, I hit on the number seven and realized that was the right amount of time for her to develop into the woman she is at the end of the novel. I like that seven has a spiritual significance, but in this case, seven years feels like the amount of time it ought to take Margaret to learn what she needs to learn.
Q: Like other spiritual texts, The Song of Life blends magical realism with its goals of discussing the nature of the universe. What is it about magic & fantasy that can help us discover more about who we are?
A: Magic and fantasy activate the imagination. In The Song of Life, I believe that everything happens in Margaret’s head. That’s just my belief. Readers may disagree. Magic and fantasy occur in the exact place that beauty and fairness occur — in the human mind. We can imagine anything.
Q: While it is a novel deeply ingrained in the consciousness of grief and loss, it’s still packed with humor and can be read as a sort of literary comedy. What do you think about comedy’s role in unraveling this deeply spiritual story of grief?
A: As I mentioned earlier, I experienced profound loss and grief as a young person. My mother died when she was 44 and I was 13. My father died eight years later, and my brother died just 10 months after that. My sense of humor is a shield, a defense mechanism, a philosophy, a lens through which I look at the craziness, heartbreak, and wonderfulness of life. Humor brings people together. Laughter heals. I can’t imagine writing something that isn’t humorous. I don’t see the world in any other way.
Q: What do you think makes a strong spiritual odyssey? Where does it start, where must we go, and what should we feel when we return?
A: A desire for change, for connection, for a return to something essential even if we can’t put what it is into words. It starts with the recognition of dissatisfaction and an aspiration to be happier, to be free of worry, to live more in the present moment and less in the past and the future. What should we feel when we return? A sense deep down in your gut that everything is going to be all right.
Q: What’s your author journey looked like so far? What brings you to this book at this time?
A: I became a writer because I loved to read. The happiest moments I had back in elementary school were when the school librarian read aloud to us. It transported me and made me happy. And I wanted to do that. I wanted to tell stories that would delight people. Thankfully I had a few wonderful teachers in high school and college who liked my writing and believed in me, so I believed in myself. But when I was young I didn’t have the discipline required to sit in one place and write for several hours a day. So I got into theater as an actor, stage manager, and producer. I like making theater, but I am happiest when I’m working alone, pecking out words on a keyboard, writing and rewriting, always trying to achieve something that will delight readers.
What brought me to this novel at this time? I saw the girl carrying the Bhagavad Gita and thought, “What a beautiful image, and what a neat way to approach a story about meditation. What if that book had landed on her head?” It was just a silly, creative moment, a shot in the dark. I kept thinking about that image of a book landing on somebody’s head and then that somebody saying, “Well it must have happened for a reason,” and then the story taking the form of that person searching for meaning, and eventually finding it.
Q: As you know, our motto here at Sunbury Press is to “Continue the Enlightenment.” What can readers expect to take away from this novel after finishing it?
A: Hopefully the idea that forgiveness is not merely an act of accepting an apology and letting someone off the hook, but a state of being. When I look around, I see a lot of people holding on to a lot of anger and resentment. It hurts us to hold on to that stuff. We can let go of it even if those who hurt us have not apologized. Forgiveness isn’t necessarily about letting them off the hook, but letting ourselves off. And I hope the novel will get people interested in meditation. It’s a good daily practice.
About the Author
Louis Greenstein is the author of Mr. Boardwalk (New Door Books) and The Song of Life. Louis has written for Nickelodeon's EMMY-winning show Rugrats and he has had short fiction published in places like Margins Magazine and Philadelphia Stories. A recipient of a Pennsylvania Council of the Arts playwriting fellowship, Louis’s one-act plays, Smoke, Interview with a Scapegoat, and The Convert were commissioned by Theatre Ariel, published by Dramatic Publishing and produced many times in the U.S. and abroad. Learn more about him at LouisGreenstein.com.
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