The best books exploring the search for sanctuary

Judith Teitelman Author Of Guesthouse for Ganesha
By Judith Teitelman

Who am I?

I have always been a seeker, fascinated by all cultures, philosophies, and spiritual perspectives. Although the concept is often different—for some, it’s a place of refuge, feeling safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble; for others, it’s a state of being, an inner peace, I’ve found that the search for sanctuary—safe-haven—elsewhere—has ancient roots and contemporary reverberations. My novel, Guesthouse for Ganesha, further heightened my interest in this subject, for my protagonist, Esther Grünspan, both deeply wounded and unsafe, was compelled to seek sanctuary. As a first-time novelist with an 18-year journey to publication, I fully immersed myself in this topic’s study and comprehension.


I wrote...

Guesthouse for Ganesha

By Judith Teitelman,

Book cover of Guesthouse for Ganesha

What is my book about?

Weaving Eastern beliefs and perspectives with Western realities and pragmatism, Guesthouse for Ganesha is a tale of love, loss, and spirit reclaimed.

In 1923, 17-year-old Esther Grünspan arrives in Köln “with a hardened heart as her sole luggage,” Thus begins a 22-year journey, woven against the backdrops of the European Holocaust and Hindu Kali Yuga (“Age of Darkness”), in search of sanctuary. Throughout her travails, Esther relies on her masterful tailoring skills to help mask her Jewish heritage, navigate war-torn Europe, and emigrate to India. Her traveling companion and the novel’s narrator is Ganesha, the beloved elephant-headed Hindu God. Impressed by Esther’s fortitude and relentless determination, born of her deep―though unconscious―understanding of the meaning of love, Ganesha conveys her journey with compassion, insight, and poetry.

The books I picked & why

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Purple Lotus

By Veena Rao,

Book cover of Purple Lotus

Why this book?

Veena Rao’s Purple Lotus is an inspiring story of one woman’s (Tara) search for and discovery of self-worth, self-determination, inner strength, and authenticity. I admired the author’s fine writing which powerfully captures the harsh realities of a young immigrant’s life in an abusive marriage in a new, foreign country, the pressures and expectations from her traditional family and community back in India, and, ultimately, Tara’s ability and courage to recognize that she is undeserving of such treatment. Concurrently, she realizes that her struggles are emblematic of broader, systemic issues, which Tara forthrightly and eloquently addresses head-on.


Wild Boar in the Cane Field

By Anniqua Rana,

Book cover of Wild Boar in the Cane Field

Why this book?

I love to travel—both physically around the world and throughout time and history through books. Anniqua Rana’s Wild Board in the Cane Field transported me elsewhere. It is a beautifully rendered and imaginatively descriptive tale that takes the reader to a place few have likely visited—the life and culture of rural Pakistan. It is also a magically realistic tale, a favorite genre of mine. While this poignant story centers on its teenage protagonist, I was immediately captivated by all the characters and their hopes, desires, challenges, and joys. 


Finding Venerable Mother: A Daughter's Spiritual Quest to Thailand

By Cindy Rasicot,

Book cover of Finding Venerable Mother: A Daughter's Spiritual Quest to Thailand

Why this book?

Writing a memoir is a brave act, especially one that shares a personal and spiritual exploration, and Cindy Rasicot’s engaging Finding Venerable Mother does just that. I applaud her honesty. Within these pages, I experienced, first, her encounter and then budding relationship with Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, Thailand’s first female Buddhist monk. Along the way, Ms. Rasicot frankly shares personal health challenges, obstacles she encountered living in a foreign country, and, ultimately, triumphs. It is a story of love and acceptance, healing and hope. 


Luz

By Debra Thomas,

Book cover of Luz

Why this book?

In Debra Thomas’s compassionately rendered Luz, her protagonist’s (Alma) border crossing from Mexico into the United States is relayed in painful, harrowing, and often shocking detail. It is a powerful and, at times, difficult read. Yet an important one. I often forgot that this is a work of fiction, as the story Thomas so deftly portrays is all too common and all too real, especially for a resident of Southern California, which I am. However, it is one filled with hope and determination and the unwavering spirit of a young, passionate girl in search of answers.


The Book of Form and Emptiness

By Ruth Ozeki,

Book cover of The Book of Form and Emptiness

Why this book?

Within these pages, Ruth Ozeki creates a world like no other. The Book of Form and Emptiness is thought-provoking, compelling, and thoroughly original. This story took me places I’ve never been before, and I was awestruck throughout the journey. Exploring loss, bereavement, mental illness, and Zen Buddhism, this is a multi-layered, insightful, and deeply spiritual tale. One that is unforgettable. Significantly, it is also a novel that celebrates books and libraries, two of my favorite things, with the book itself as a protagonist. What could be better?


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