Kamal Ravikant preaches lofty ideals, but his writing stunts message
Even though it’s typically not my literary genre of choice, I was excited to receive an ARC of Rebirth: A Fable of Love, Forgiveness, and Following Your Heart by Kamal Ravikant. Having been likened to Paulo Coehlo, of whom I am a fan, I thought I’d enjoy the novel. I kept it in a prominent place on my bookshelf for three months before I could finally sit down with it.
Just like my expectations, the prologue held plenty of promise. I thought I’d found a kindred spirit in the main character of Amit, a twenty-something med student unsure of his life’s path and taken with wanderlust. I could feel the distant uncertainty of how to react as Amit scattered his estranged father’s ashes into the Ganges. And I understood, in the absence of any other purpose, the inevitability of following an Italian tourist’s suggestion to hike the Camino de Santiago because “everyone finds themselves on the Camino.” A 550-mile pilgrimage across Spain would certainly offer plenty of time to examine one’s flaws and correct them. Unfortunately for Rebirth, the pilgrimage also lays bare all its flaws.
Unlike Coehlo, whose novels Rebith is likened to, Ravikant does not have the ability to produce a fable. During the fourth day on the trail, Amit narrates, “I feel like Don Quixote, sans Sancho, horse, or lance.” It’s exactly how Ravikant’s novel reads: like Don Quixote reaching for his lofty idealism minus the tools that even allow him the opportunity. The prose has no nuance—the prologue’s narration I’d interpreted as distant uncertainty turns out to actually just be status quo. The dialogue is stilted and unnatural. All conflict, even the core conflict of Amit’s father dying, is glossed over so that nothing resonates. It’s just not possible to write a “timeless” fable if all the pieces don’t fit.
Still, Ravikant tries. To his credit, he understands that the relationships Amit forms on the Camino are the most important part of the story. He gives us Loïc, a friendly Frenchman, who describes the “magic, mon ami” of jumping without knowing because “then your wings grow.” There is also Kat, whose stories and soft, albeit talkative, presence are the best elements of the novel. She teaches Amit how to answer the question of “what next?” after sprouting wings, because it’s not just about staying alive, but about living.
However, even though each pilgrim’s story relates to Amit, Ravikant never takes the time to give the reader proper insight into Amit’s processing of the information. He should be the story’s grounding, allowing readers to see themselves in him. Instead, each new pilgrim’s story reads less like a confluence of ideas and more like a series of parables. Couple that with how every pilgrim seems to speak only in inspirational quotes, and suddenly Rebirth feels more like a sermon than a novel. It lacks subtlety, tediously contemplating symbols that don’t matter (i.e. a lonely ham leg) and shamelessly promoting anything that was originally clever (i.e. the presence of wind during Amit’s revelations). There’s no room left for the reader’s interpretation.
I had wanted this book to be better. I was able to find, perhaps in desperation, a few gems such as Kat hidden in its pages and an overall message of loving life and one another that I can support, but they weren’t enough to salvage a story that was a poor attempt to imitate Paulo Coehlo’s fables and, at best, an underwhelming novel.