When I retrieved the above-titled paperback from a bargain bin outside my favorite bookstore I had my doubts. I’d never heard of it and my only experience with a memoir was a bad one (my condolences to anyone forced to read Richard Rodriguez’ Aria for a class assignment as I was). The praise on the front cover coaxed me to put my doubts aside so I purchased it — and was richly rewarded for the venture. Brown’s sharp-witted, precise story-telling (as well as the absurdity of the story itself) made All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: An American Misfit In India both hilarious and deeply insightful.
Born in Manija to a pair of ex-hippies (she legally added the name Rachel in her adolescence), Ms. Brown was uprooted to a “drought-stricken, cobra-ridden backwater town” in India at age seven by her parents’ religious fervor for a guru named Meher Baba (best known for his influence on The Who’s Pete Townshend). Five years of her childhood on a spiritual commune in the rural town of Ahmednagar was rife for experiences ranging from amusing to horrifying, but Ms. Brown’s tone remains bluntly honest and dryly funny throughout.
The characters and events which comprise young “Mani’s” life are so colorful and outrageous as to seem made-up. However Brown’s frankness in describing her bizarre circumstances (and her own reactions to them) make her entirely relatable and more importantly, believable. One thing which is particularly enjoyable about Fishes is how well-acquainted the reader feels with both Baba-lovers (inhabitants of the commune) and rural Indian culture; two things which couldn’t be more foreign for the average American. Another plus is the unpredictable nature of Brown’s narrative; with such things as howling librarians and fatal car accidents being commonplace, there’s no telling what Brown’s next adventure or experience will be. Paired with a quick-clipping narrative and a non-sequential plotline, Fishes is difficult to put down, but easy to resume.