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A Journey with Elsa Cloud    by Leila Hadley order for
Journey with Elsa Cloud
by Leila Hadley
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 1998 (1997)
*   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

I began A Journey with Elsa Cloud with a certain amount of trepidation, as it is touted as being written 'in prose as heady as an old Delhi market'. The book describes 'a mother's journey in search of her daughter and herself' (Washington Post Book World). I was immediately taken with its title, which comes from the daughter's daydreams as a youngster - when she grew up, she would like to be 'the sea, the jungle, or else a cloud'; hence Elsa Cloud. However, first impressions can be deceiving. This book did not keep me riveted; in fact, I was often so annoyed with the machinations of Leila's memoirs that I had to take a break.

I can certainly understand why there was a disconnection between mother and daughter. Leila Hadley grew up in a strict, moneyed, class conscious Britain with a string of nannies, and parents who were ill-equipped to take on child-rearing. Her daughter, Veronica, grew up in the New York of the nineteen sixties: flower-power and free love. Talk about a generation gap, this is a chasm! As a mother of daughters myself, I started the book on a hopeful note, expecting to remain engrossed on an emotional level as well as a cultural one. However, the images of India, so easily evoked by Hadley's prose, are consistently erased by disheartening revelations of the previous experiences of mother and daughter: I'm not sure that Veronica would be thrilled to have us know that she was sexually permissive at thirteen, snipping her partner's pubic hair to make nests of her conquests. However this again goes some way to explain Leila Hadley's estrangement from her daughter, and Veronica's need to find a religion that can help her attain peace within herself.

I would have appreciated more historical background to give depth to the pair's travel destinations. This was the aspect of the book that appealed to me most, although the narration was sometimes rather disjointed and I have to agree wholeheartedly with Veronica when she said, 'Why do you have to bring psychology into everything?' We were promised a travelogue, but ended up with Hadley's self-analysis of her abilities as a mother and as a daughter herself. Unfortunately I was not able to stay with the author for more than three quarters of the novel, so I did not get to meet with his Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Perhaps you will be able to complete the journey for me.

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