The year is 1986, Guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh has been exiled from the United States after the highly scandalous failure of his Oregon ashram, Rajneeshpuram. Told from four different perspectives and through various time jumps, Zorba the Buddha documents how this movement fell apart from the inside out. Each character’s experience sheds light on the attractive qualities of the movement’s Master, as well as their individual struggles to follow his commands and align their faith with his teachings. A truly compelling read, Katerina Cosgrove’s novella and reflective essay give insight into the true events that began in Oregon and ended in Crete.
Gurus can be saints and sinners, ambiguous and exasperating, both light and dark. The truth is slippery and enigmatic, depending whose perspective you tell the story from.
Let's talk about it
Tell us something about yourself that not many people know.
I flooded an entire hotel room in Tangiers, Morocco, when I was 21.
Why did you choose these themes in your book and were you aware of them from the outset?
I have always been fascinated by the perilous nature of truth and lies and been drawn to the charismatic thrall of gurus and spiritual teachers. These issues of prestige and power, disgrace and despair, underpin the action in my characters’ journeys. I consciously set out to explore the fertile ground of this rich murkiness when I was planning my novella.
How difficult was it for you to write this book? Did you face any obstacles?
Strangely enough, this novella was the swiftest and smoothest of all my books to write. Everything flowed effortlessly, from the initial idea to interviews to research to first and subsequent drafts to publication. It’s now also being produced as an audio drama, with a director and award-winning actors. Maybe it is Osho’s hand working from afar!
Do you always write in this genre or do you like to break out of the box?
All my books have been classified as literary fiction. That said, they all deal with very different themes. The Glass Heart had a strong memoir aspect, as did Intimate Distance, being set in Greece and Australia and dealing with my cultural and family ties. Bone Ash Sky was new territory: political and historical, based on the Armenian Genocide and the Lebanese Civil War. Zorba the Buddha has broken new ground for me again.
What are your writing habits or idiosyncrasies?
I write at a desk in our open plan living/dining room/kitchen, surrounded by family, native birds flitting in and out, the distant sound of cows and horses, and our elderly dog. I don’t like being in a separate room with the door closed. In the past, I’ve written on kitchen tables, at work when I owned bookshop-cafes, outdoors, on planes and anywhere else you can think of. I don’t mind music, chatter or any other noises while writing. And I can only write after I’ve done some exercise or gardening, had a swim and a shower. Not for me the waking up and going straight to the desk routine.
What’s next for your writing?
I am currently working very slowly on a controversial true crime book set in Melbourne in the 1960s. Speaking of roadblocks: unlike Zorba the Buddha, this one is a path littered with obstacles. I’ve finished a cli-fi novel (climate change science fiction) called 2084 which will be published next year.
Katerina Cosgrove is the author of The Glass Heart (HarperCollins), Bone Ash Sky (Hardie Grant) and Intimate Distance (Text), winner of the Griffith Review Novella Prize. Bone Ash Sky was shortlisted for the Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. Katerina’s novella, Zorba the Buddha, is runner-up in the Carmel Bird Digital Literary Prize. Katerina has written for local and overseas publications including Al-Jazeera, The Independent, SBS Voices, Island, Daily Life, The Big Issue and HuffPost and has co-judged the Nib Award for Literature from 2014. She also writes obituaries through her site Live Life Twice.