A Glimpse of Eternity
Altered Press (2022)
Reviewed by Sacha Fortune for Reader Views (10/2022)
The feeling of “loss of self” is one we may have all felt at some time, and this is the sentiment that drives “A Glimpse of Eternity” by Alejandro Tuama. Nick, a 27-year-old Australian man, feels like he is all over the place — leaving a job as a high school teacher (unsure he’ll return); at the tail end of a relationship he ruined; still reeling from the reverberations of the breakdown of his family since his parents’ divorce; and with a general sense of “I-don’t-know-what’s-next-for-me.”
Having had some experience with psychedelic drugs, Nick believes that this may be the answer for him, and he travels to South America to seek a spiritual, mystical experience through a series of ayahuasca ceremonies at different retreat centres. As he says to a woman he meets:
“I just sense that ayahuasca is the key to sorting me out... There’s something wrong with me but I don’t know what it is. I feel like I’ve lost something from when I was a child. I can’t really connect with anything. And I feel there’s this big, golden ball of power inside me, waiting to be unleashed into the world. I just have to figure out how to do it.”
The novel unfolds describing his experiences on his own, with his friends who share part of the journey with him, with women he meets, and with passersby that he connects with on his journey throughout South America as he moves from one retreat centre to the next.
The author is extremely talented at description, taking you right there to the scene — you can almost feel the heat in the air, the pollution and pungent smells of the area, the meagre accommodations, and environments at the centres, and so much more. Every ceremony is described in such detail that it captures both the typical general knowledge of these types of spiritual retreats, but we are also seeing it through Nick’s eyes with a certain level of skepticism, which adds to the overall feeling of realism as he reflects on the experience.
There is a sense of adventure as we follow Nick’s travels, but also we connect to his inner thoughts, which are in constant battle to understand himself and the world around him, to tap into that mysterious meaning of life:
“Nicholas. Nicky. Nicko. Nick. How many different people am I trying to be? I’ve been leading so many lives, playing so many roles, that I’ve forgotten who I actually am. Who is the person under all the layers? [...] What do I care about? What do I live for? Why do I even bother getting up in the morning? I know there’s a reason. Even if it isn’t immediately clear. I know there’s something more to this life. [...] I know that it’s there, the great... ‘it’. But what is ‘it’? I don’t know yet. But I’m close.”
There were many moments where a poignant or memorable viewpoint was conveyed, such as our tendency to obsess with social media just to say we’ve had an experience because we get social validation from being “witnessed” doing something, whether or not we get validation from the experience itself; another was his reflection that you need to be whole and complete in yourself, else you will only attract other damaged and incomplete people.
While I enjoyed the novel, I do wish to warn other readers that the descriptions of bodily fluids are constant and visceral throughout (at times perhaps even gratuitous!), so bear this in mind if this factor isn’t to your liking. Also, the novel’s structure focuses on an experiential description rather than a linear action-driven plot, so don’t expect a typical plot arc or shocking twist — I myself was kind of “waiting for something to happen” but eventually realized that wasn’t the point; the journey was more important than the destination!
Overall, “A Glimpse of Eternity” is an engaging story that makes you want to keep on reading because as readers we are transported to a startling experience most of us have never had, along with a refreshingly honest point of view from a young man. I did see many similarities with the novel/film “Into The Wild” (and there’s some intertextuality when the author mentions this title in passing through a comment from one of Nick’s friends); this novel captures the same combination of a sense of adventure, and flawed masculinity fighting to overcome the depths of depression and self-doubt. I would recommend this particularly to male readers who identify as millennials, as I feel this would resonate particularly with them.