BOOKS: THE UNIVERSE IN A STONE

ANITA DESAI'S NEW NOVEL CHRONICLES A QUEST FOR THE PERFECT GURU

Can there be anything more tiresome than hearing--or reading--about someone else's quest for spiritual enlightenment? Such accounts always tend toward the deeply sincere and the totally humorless. Anita Desai is therefore an intrepid novelist indeed; her Journey to Ithaca (Knopf; 312 pages; $23) traces the pilgrimages of not one but three seekers after truth, spelled with a capital T.

Matteo is the son of wealthy Italian parents, Sophie the daughter of equally rich German ones. They meet, marry and set out for India in 1975, Matteo carrying a copy of Hermann Hesse's The Journey to the East with him. The immensity...

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