"It is hard sometimes, I know. One goes astray from the pattern prepared -- allowing mundane affairs to carry you away, thinking you are in control when actually you have betrayed yourself. In the example of one extreme, I will mention the soul whom you knew as Hitler, who was to be a benevolent leader of the European countries, a great light in that part of the world. But he failed and, in his lust for power, short-circuited his own mission and the lives of tens of millions of others. He believed in the illusion produced by his politics, and in the darkness of that delusion he was carted away. In that hell now, he grieves an indescribable grief, painful beyond any experience known. He grieves for who he is and what he did, a measure that is not easily repaired, though healed in time it will be." (The Hierophant of 100th Street, page 204)
This is probably the hardest review I've ever had to write. I was intrigued by the summary on the back of the book calling The Hierophant of 100th Street a cross between The Celestine Prophecy and West Side Story. When I saw it categorized as fiction/metaphysics, I was hesitant. What the heck is metaphysics? And more importantly, what is an hierophant? After looking up the definition of hierophant ("a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy"), I dove in.
Because there are quite a few characters and a lot going on in The Hierophant of 100th Street, making it difficult to put my thoughts into words, let me just tell you upfront that I enjoyed the book That being said, I'll admit that a lot of it was over my head. To me, it seems as though the book could be divided into two parts: the people and events of 100th Street -- a rough East Harlem neighborhood -- in the 1960s, and the spiritual journey of the main character, Adam Kadman.
Author Cullen Dorn follows Adam beginning with his decision to be reincarnated and his rebirth as Adam Kadman, with the book officially opening when Adam is 17. He is different from the other youths of 100th Street. He is intelligent, always seeing things that others can't, and not interested in cheap women, drugs, or fighting. Adam's story involves a near fatal stabbing, being drafted during Vietnam, his journey to Egypt and his flight back to the United States when love and culture butt heads, and his friendship with renowned psychic Clifford Bias (who in real life was a close friend of Dorn's).
The spiritual aspect of the story involves Bias and the secret rituals he leads, as well as Adam's visits to Arizona to hear Crowfoot speak about the different planes of heaven through medium Richard Ireland. The mystical religion that guides Adam through his later years -- what he had been seeking all along -- is clearly spelled out throughout the book, but these scenes felt preachy and read like I was sitting in a college lecture hall. I longed to quickly read through them to get to what I felt was the meat of the book: the block of 100th Street where Adam grew up and the captivating characters found on its corners. I couldn't get enough of these characters: John, Adam's younger brother and a hoodlum and drug addict who winds up in prison; Eddie, a friend of Adam's who grows up to be a cop and desires only to stop the drug dealers taking over the neighborhood; Count, whose lust for a conniving woman leads him to commit a crime that has the mafia and crooked cops seeking him out; and Landy, a talented musician whose love for Nicola is stronger than her heroin addition. 100th Street, as portrayed by Dorn, is akin to an entire semester's worth of sociological study packed into just under 400 pages.
While Dorn does connect the spiritual aspect of the story to the larger picture of 100th Street, it is these characters that brought the book to life for me. I don't know what it's like to live in a crime-ridden, drug-infested neighborhood, to worry about being murdered in a stairwell of a public housing complex, to see an entire neighborhood fall to the drug dealers, its inhabitants walking around like zombies. How these characters come to terms with their situations and how their past lives and choices on the other side affect their actions in this world and the next gets you thinking about the workings of the universe, neighborhood dynamics, friendship and family, and how our decisions affect others.
Even if you think the mystical aspect of the book isn't your cup of tea and doesn't jibe with your own personal religious beliefs, The Hierophant of 100th Street is worth checking out. Dorn's characters are flawed yet endearing, and he takes readers to the streets to witness firsthand the heartbreaking effects of drugs, gangs, and prison. At times graphic and completely devoid of hope, The Hierophant of 100th Street shows that life may not be all that it seems and that even in the darkest of situations, there is promise, if not in the here and now, then somewhere else.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Hierophant of 100th Street from Frog Books and LibraryThing for review purposes.