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Book Review – Shaman Express by Beretta Rousseau

February, 2019

Book Review
Shaman Express
by Beretta Rousseau

Short
review: I hated this book.

Let
me say right off the bat that I am the wrong person to be reviewing
this book. I am going to be fifty-nine this year; I am a die-hard
radical feminist; I have been in recovery for almost thirty years
now; I read the entire canon of Carlos Castanedas over forty years
ago; I grew out of this kind of “using drugs to find spiritual
enlightenment” bullshit before the age of THIRTY.

To
be honest, I might have liked this book – a whole lot – when I
was twenty-one or so – but that was many, many years ago. In my
twenties, I had a great attraction for erotic literature and any book
with lots of sex in it, whether or not it was necessary to the plot.
This book is one of those books.

I
was ready to throw it into the garbage after I read the first
sentence. “I woke up sweating, alarmed, and with a painful
erection.” So fucking what? Waking up with an erection is
perfectly normal. This author acts like it’s some kind of
accomplishment. I’m sorry but I don’t want to read this
shit. I really don’t.

On
page 10: “It took me some time to realize that the twelve-step
program I had entered was a spiritual program.” Gee … how fucked
up were you? Because all twelve-step programs tell you that
right off the bat. But of course, they also tell us that some
of us are more damaged that others. This author is obviously very
damaged.

The thing is, “Beretta Rousseau” is actually two people – Omar Beretta and Bénédicte Rousseau – evidently a man and a woman – and they trade off chapters in the novel like John Lennon and Yoko Ono trading off songs on “Double Fantasy”. It makes for a very uneven novel (just like “Double Fantasy”). Rousseau is the better writer, in my humble opinion. I googled them separately and Omar Beretta is a travel writer – he looks to be maybe ten years or so younger than me but of course, looks are deceiving – and Bénédicte Rousseau is a Belgium writer born in 1980 – incidentally the year I first took LSD (I was twenty). I couldn’t find very much about Omar Beretta – or the correct Omar Beretta because it’s apparently a very common name and there were lots of them to choose from, from investment bankers to Uranium entrepreneurs to Argentine tax lawyers – but with a little work, I did find an interview with Berretta which is here: https://yacarevolador.com/omar-beretta-has-been-interviewed/. According to that article, you can access Berretta’s website here: https://yacarevolador.com/. It is in Spanish but can be translated easily into English. Rousseau has a website that you can visit here: https://www.benedicterousseau.com/. Rousseau is Belgium but her site is in English.

This book is labeled “A Novel” but I am not sure that it is. It really reads more like creative nonfiction – especially with all the quotes and the footnotes – but of course, that’s the trendy cool way to write novels nowadays – check out The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – but Diaz’s book is obviously a novel whereas Shaman Express is a novel only because it bends the barrier between fiction and non-fiction. In a way, it doesn’t matter at all if it’s a novel or not. It’s the story that counts – whether or not it’s factually true is beside the point.

I
guess I just didn’t care about the story.

So
what is the story? That’s a really good question.

Part
One is called “Alive”. Part Two is called “Dead”. Part
Three is called “Awake”.

All
three parts are written as diary entries. Each chapter is an entry –
one written by Berretta and the next one by Rousseau. I found
myself having to read chapters over and over again, since none of it
made very much sense. It seemed that both Berretta and Rousseau were
interested in “shamanism” and in finding evidence of European
shamanism. Why they don’t do this in a scholarly fashion is
beyond me. There are all kinds of scholarship on this very subject.
I myself have been studying European shamanism – not that I called
it that – since the mid-1980’s. But I guess if they spent their
time in libraries, we wouldn’t have a novel to read, wouldn’t we.
The trouble is – if you’re looking for “action” – there
really isn’t any “there” there. Or – it’s there – but
it’s all busyness with no real substance.

The “action” goes from Amsterdam to Brussels to Belsedere to Ulan-Ude back to Brussels and then to Lake Baikal and then to Bangkok – but during all this movement, there is so much hallucination and “guided meditation” that you wonder if any of this travel is actually happening at all or if Berretta and Rousseau are really talking to any of the people they are talking to or even to one another. It’s almost like they were sending emails to one another and the chapters don’t quite match up. On the other hand, the whole novel made me think of those story-games we played as children – one person starts the story and another person adds to it and it gets crazier and crazier with the telling. A version of this is in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, in the chapter “Camp Lawrence”. Since Berretta is a travel writer, this is eminently possible. He seems to be the one who is always on the move and Rousseau is always having to meet him at this or that place.

In
one of the guided meditations, Rousseau meets her “spirit guide”
who apparently is the god Apollo. She writes,

“…My
spirit guide strokes my hair tenderly. I find comfort in this
heavenly touch.

‘Your
situation is simple, Benedetta. You must choose between life and
death. You must hurry though…’

…This
seems unreal to me. I am speechless. I am not even sure I am having
this conversation.” (page 70)

So
she chooses life. Well, of course she does. But that’s the end of
the first part and like I said earlier, the section part is called
“Death”. And believe me, it’s a small death just to get
through it.

The
end of the third part ends with: “Awake. Really?” and then,
“One day at a time can lead to a glimpse of eternity.” (page 214)
Which is probably the wisest statement in this entire book.

Again
– I don’t want to diss this book entirely – some of you are
going to read this and absolutely love it. I just didn’t.

One
of the links on Rousseau’s website is entitled “Top Five Tips for
Writing in a Literary Collaboration”. I highly recommend this for
any writer, whether or not you write with other people – and let’s
face it, most of us do collaborate with other writers, whether
we are aware of it or not – and I liked #2, “Practice
conversation”. If you read this book as a conversation between two
people, it’s Rousseau’s voice that is the more engaging. I found
myself rushing through Berretta’s chapters, just wanting to get
them over with – they were oversexed and over-violent – so I
could relax with the more soothing and reasonable voice of Rousseau.
I was also wishing that there were a few more voices in this
conversation. Maybe the teacher’s? Or a few other students?

The
other thing I thought while reading this “novel” was that it was
really a screenplay and the authors didn’t realize it. Perhaps
it’s been optioned and we’ll all be watching the movie on Netflix
at this time next year. I do think it will work better as a movie.

That
said, I know there are plenty of people who will absolutely love this
book. I am just not one of them.

References

Berretta
Rousseau. Shaman Express.
WA: Amazon Digital Services, LLC, 2018.

Alcott,
Louisa May. Little Women.
NY: Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, 1947.

Shaman Express on Amazon

***

About
the Author:

Polly
MacDavid
 lives
in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change,
since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the
divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has
three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her
philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly
based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She
blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com.
She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a
novel about sex, drugs and recovery.