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Reading ‘Living With a Wild God’ in Mogadishu

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The book: Living With a Wild God: An Unbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything, Barbara Ehrenreich 

The place: Mogadishu (still) 

The only Ehrenreich I have hitherto read is Nickel and Dimed, but I’m extremely glad I picked this up when it was on Amazon for cheap the other day. Ehrenreich says in the acknowledgements that the book was originally intended to be a history of religion, until her agent persuaded her to turn it into a personal narrative, and effectively what the book is about (so far – I’ve yet to finish it) is how non-believers can fit the numinous into their world views.  Ehrenreich speaks candidly about her own mystical experiences (or dissociation) throughout her teenage years, and how they affected her, as an avowed atheist by upbringing; while I can’t say I entirely relate to the intensity of Ehrenreich’s struggle with the transcendental, elements of the book ring very true: “This was the function of religion, in fact -” Ehrenreich says, “to serve as a safe storage place for the unaccountable and uncanny.”

Ehrenreich writes with elegance and humour and passionate interest in all aspects of life and knowledge and humanity. She is the sort of writer I would like to go for a beer with. Something that has struck me throughout the book, however, is quite how preternaturally intellectually sophisticated Ehrenreich’s adolescent self seems to have been. She certainly knocks my own pretentious, pseudo-intellectual teenage self into a cocked hat; while I was dipping my toe into Camus flipping through Nietzsche in bookstores and writing impassioned, ill-thought-out faux-philosophical treatises in my journal, Teen Ehrenreich was grappling with quantum physics and reading Proust and having a proper, grown-up existential crisis. I like to believe that Ehrenreich has at least proofread the excerpts of her teenage journals that she includes in the book; at the very least, Teen Ehrenreich must have misspelled the occasional word, surely? (Speaking as someone who could not reliably spell ‘privilege’ until her early twenties.)

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Written by Jess

August 12, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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