Reviews of Alter's Heaven

Alter, Stephen. All the Way to Haven : An American Boyhood in the Himalayas. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1998. 319 pp. ISBN 0805051589

Telegraph August 1999 || Bond Outlook April 1999

From the Calcutta Telebraph, 6 August 1999, p. 13.

When the foothills came alive

*All the Way to Heaven: An American Boyhood in the Himalayas (Penguin, Rs. 250) by Stephen Alter tells the story of a boy who grew up speaking a pidgin dialect of Hindustani and English. He was the son and the grandson of Presbytarian missionaries living in India for more than half a century. He studied American history but knew more about India's independence from British India. In this book Alter writes evocatively about his family, his Indian friends and his memories of hunting for barking deer and ghoral in the steep foothills of the mountains, of fishing in the Song, the Jamuna and the Ganges. His memories are exotic and luxuriant.

From OUTLOOK, 5 April 1999, p. 67.

ALTER EGO: A charming account of a boyhood in the Himalayas

ALL THE WAY TO HEAVEN by Stephen Alter

Penguin Rs 250, Pages 319
Rs 25D. Pages: 319


ANYONE familiar with the Landour side of Mussoorie, or with Woodstock School, will be charmed and fascinated by Stephen Alter's account of his boyhood in the Himalayan foothills. But even a stranger to these parts will enjoy his sensitive prose and ability to tell a story.

The son (and grandson) of American missionaries, he grew up first in the mission compound at Etah, and later in the midst of Landour's '60s conservative missionary community. The hippie culture of the period was at odds with orthodox Christianity, and at Woodstock even Alter had doubts about religion in general and his own faith in particular: "I came to accept the fact that I didn't believe in God. From time to time I tried to search within myself for some hint of faith, encouraged by friends and teachers at Woodstock, but there was nothing there, not even the slightest trace of conviction.... Instead, I was turning against the self-righteous, charismatic forms of Christianity that were so prevalent in Landour, the hysterical preaching of fundamentalist missionaries who believed that India was full of satanic evil and that they and their brethren had taken it upon themselves to save the souls of eight hundred million sinners."

Apart from this, he loved the life that Woodstock and Landour offered-hikes to nearby peaks; hunting trips and fishing at mountain streams; the diverse flora and fauna; the friends and companions. He is good at portraying interesting or eccentric characters--down-and-out leftovers from the Raj, unorthodox teachers, shopkeepers, domestic help; and an interesting cameo of his cousin Tom, who became an Indian citizen (against everyone's advice) and went on to achieve success in Hindi films. Stephen, on the other hand, remained ambivalent about his loyalties, and finally settled for a literary and academic life in the US.

An accomplished novelist, Alter shows that he is equally convincing at telling his own story.

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