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Book review: <i>Holy Cow! An Indian Adventure</i> by Sarah MacDonald

the cover of the book

An incredibly candid exploration of a few of the religious and cultural elements of that great and varied nation, India. Love it or hate it, there's just something about it...

The story

Sarah MacDonald vowed never to go back to India, after hating it in her early twenties. But the world had slightly different plans for her, and several years later there she was, winging her way back to India - to be with her husband, Jonathan, ABC correspondent.

At first, Sarah wigged out a little. She hated it - the streets, the poverty, the heat, the third world conditions, and the associated first world guilt. She'd only been a short time in India when she developed a severe case of double pneumonia, which knocked her flat for a while. When she'd recovered, on realising that she needed to make the most of her time in India with her husband gone for long periods of time, she decided to explore India - learn the language, customs, and look for spiritual solace... and get her hair back, which was falling out in clumps.

Using some of the ABC contacts, Sarah wended her way round India for the two years she spent there, making friends, learning things, and ultimately, travelling on the marvellous journey that India is.

The style

I don't know if I like Sarah MacDonald as a person, maybe she's a bit - confrontationalist. Or something. But on the other hand, it was this very honesty and personality that was portrayed in Holy Cow that gave it the depth of feeling that it had. While her complaints about India were a bit negative, she was willing to give everything a go, and she was willing to grow as a person during her story - to show the development of her personality, and ultimately, fall in love with India while not romanticising it at all.

These are all good points to the book.

And the subject matter was fascinating. While I wouldn't choose Sarah as my travelling companion, Holy Cow piqued my already piqued interest in India. And left me despairing about how I would just have to keep going there over and over again because there is no way I could do it all in one trip. Frankly, it sounds awesome. And I appreciate Sarah's ability to sell India's beauty while being uncompromisingly honest. Well, actually, I've never been there, but she sounded honest. So she's either a really great saleswoman, or she means it.

The other thing I really liked about Holy Cow was the way it examined the Indian people, and the country and culture's relationships with other nations, with Sarah as an Australian, and with Americanisation. Sarah MacDonald delves into the Indian psyche, but with her writing style, manages not to sound pretentious, or all-knowing, or assuming at all. She describes what she sees, and while she may be judgemental about certain issues she encounters, she acknowledges that she is making judgements based on her own cultural understandings. This examination, while in passing, really added to my enjoyment of the book.

Who is this book for?

If you have a passing interest in India, a hankering to go there, or even have been and want reminise, this book is for you. As someone who doesn't like autobiographies and non-fictions much, I found this an easy read.

In short

Title: Holy Cow! An Indian Adventure
Author: Sarah MacDonald
Publisher: Bantam Books
ISBN: 1863253262
Year published: 2002
Pages: 298
Genre(s): Travel literature
Review Type: 


i read this book when i returned from eight years living in india, because i missed it so much and hoped it would make me feel at home. but seeing it through her eyes just depressed me. maybe if she loves it so much she'll come back in her next life and really understand what india is about. sorry sarah.

I am still reading this book, and as an Indian, it makes my blood boil. I still hope to read it to the end and hopefully, one day, I can write a book about Australia, completely berating it, forming opinions about its flimsy policy makers, absence of history (unless you call the massacre of the aboriginals history), dry and lifeless environs, incognizable accents and the youth that's bound nowhere while turning a blind eye to the flaws in my own country and to the better parts of my victim country..

Would that really make you feel better Teena? It certainly would make you a better person. Sorry.

She went back because she needed to earn money and be famous by writing a crappy book. The whole travelogue was a sequence of well arranged visits - both the author and the publisher knew what all needs to be written. In the process she used a lot of Indian people and perhaps now is earning her bucks by being an authority on Indian affairs in Australia.

you are right teena. it has become a fashion to berate india and indians. we are poor and overpopulated and our culture is classically eastern, how could she compare our live style with her "dagly" aussie ways of living.

god, people are so insensitive and the book has hurt my sentiments pretty bad.

Hi guys,

I recently bought this book. The day i bought it (had'nt started reading it yet) I couldn't sleep at that night. I was wondering whats wrong with me!.

After 2 days I started reading the book. Just after finishing 2 chapters, i realized what was wrong with me that night. It was just Sarah's negative vibrations which didn't let me sleep! So much negative thoughts, emotions she carries around that just picking her book transmitted it. And this is not a drama (like Holy Cow is full of) we Hindus believe in that kind of universal vibrations.

There is no point in blaming her. She is like that. Poor bitch. Holy Cow is reflection of what she is. Full of negative stuff. Poor Jonathan. I really pity about the people living around her.

Gusy dont read it. If you have already bought it, just through it out. Keeping it at home imbalances the home environment. No jokes!!

Sarah is superficial enough not to see the beauty that is India. The class, the style. She cannot see that we can cook, and do not need to be taught how. She cannot see that the outside of our houses may be ugly, but the inside the most beautiful thing you can see. She cannot see that we can drive through traffic jams without a scratch on our cars. We do not lose our virginity to people we aren't married to, and she thinks that this is absurd. We will live longer than her, and we will always be smarter than her. We are the top in mathematics, and she thinks that we are stupid. We know the REAL yoga, not the one about stretching and flexibility. Our yoga will make you live longer, not make you more flexible. Indians are strong and can don't need canes to walk when we are 60. We don't throw parents out of our homes. We don't mind our parents staying with us. We don't tell our parents to stay in a hotel if they are visiting. No, we do not talk back to our parents. We love and respect them. Year after year, an Indian is in the top three in class, and the top two are not whites. Year after year, the whites are in the bottom. I am third in class, while the two whites in my class are 15th and 18th. I can adapt and pronounce English words, and yet i can also pronounce Hindi, Gujrati, Punjabi, Mandarin and more. Whites cannot pronounce any other words than the accent they have. They never try more than they have to.

I thought it was a candid portrayal of one woman's journey through various religions housed in India (reminded me a bit of Eat, Pray, Love). Although I am not Indian, I didn't feel like it painted a negative portrayal of India - I though it showed both the highs and the lows, the beautiful faith, the poverty, the affluence, the landscape both polluted and beautiful. Finished the book for a second time last night and was left feeling enriched & moved.


I've really enjoyed this book. It sounded like an honnest portrait of the life she had in india. She doesn't come accross as trying to talk negativly about india and even says that India made her who she is today.

Anywhere in the world you go you'll find good and bad things and India is no exception. Sorry to the indians who only wants to hear about the good side of their country, but I've traveled a lot and there is no such place as a perfect place.

I am not indian, but i'm married to one and a lot of things in the book made me smile.

Don't be so negative people ;-)

I am an Indian too and its so sad to see the comments that some of you have given. Isn't our culture about loving, forgiving and seeing god in others. yoga also teaches us to stay calm. Calling someone bitch is so much worse.

The only reason Sarah Macdonald has sold so many copies of this dreadful book is because some university students are currently being forced to read it and write reviews on it as part of our units. at least I get to write a scathing review about how dreadfully offensive her 'try before you buy' take on every single religion mentioned in her book (which is most of the main ones excluding Jedi :) ) is, in fact I could write 1000 words on how nauseatingly unnecessary and off putting the first paragraph was.

If it was not compulsory for me to read this there is NO WAY I ever, EVER!!!!!!!!!! Would.

Go to India as a "white" woman traveler. Then write!