The Swami Deheftner (Robert Steven Goldstein)

Author Interview

Robert Steven Goldstein is the author of the recently published novel “The Swami Deheftner”. This arresting debut novel traces the life of Solomon Deheftner, a stage magician and escapologist, who abandons that career to explore the transformation inherent in mystical transcendence. The book, set primarily in San Francisco and New York, features a vivid and evocative writing style. It chronicles a host of fascinating incidents in Deheftner’s life, and explores the evolution of the ideas and sensibilities that ultimately lead Deheftner to spiritual fulfillment.

Interviewer, Ken Jakobs: Yoga, meditation, and vegetarianism are explored extensively in your novel. They form the foundation upon which your character, Solomon Deheftner, builds a path toward spirituality. Are these practices a part of your personal life?

Robert Steven Goldstein: Yes, I’ve been practicing Yoga, meditation, and vegetarianism for well over forty years. It’s still somewhat odd to hear myself talk about Yoga, meditation, and vegetarianism separately, because historically, Yoga has always encompassed meditation and vegetarianism. But today, especially in America, Yoga is seen primarily as a set of exercises, detached from its spiritual, moral, and ethical components. So, in the novel, as well as in my day-to-day conversations, I’m careful to explicitly mention all three of these critical aspects of Yoga and spirituality.

KJ: A number of animals appear in your novel: a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and an especially memorable parrot named Einstein. All are fleshed out quite vividly. Why did you choose to include animals as characters in an adult novel?

RSG: Thank you for referring to these animals as characters. That was my goal, to paint them as full characters, with the same legitimacy and vibrancy as the human characters. Aside from the fact that their stories and personalities are, I think, rather entertaining, there is a more important reason for their inclusion. Yoga, when embraced as a way of life, includes certain moral and ethical precepts. Foremost among these is “Ahimsa”, a Sanskrit term for harmlessness or behaving in a non-injurious way. A committed Yogi endeavors not to harm other living creatures. This idea of harmlessness is a very powerful tool in spiritual awakening. It leads to a respect and love for animals, and the recognition that they are individuals with awareness and spiritual cores just like humans. Vegetarianism is an obvious corollary.

KJ: Speaking of vegetarianism, there are detailed descriptions of food preparation throughout the book that are, for all intents and purposes, recipes. It’s interesting to find those in a novel. Do you enjoy cooking and are you good at it?

RSG: I do enjoy vegetarian cooking. I’m not nearly as good at it as my wife.

KJ: I was intrigued to find episodes of bondage and sadomasochism in a novel primarily about Yoga and spirituality. Did you include these episodes to make the book more commercially successful?

RSG: No, not at all. These activities are intrinsic to the character of Solomon Deheftner and his search for spiritual enlightenment. Magic is as well, and Deheftner’s fascination with Houdini and escapology is integral to that. Pain and bondage have been associated with the spiritual quest throughout human history. The central tale in the Old Testament is the Moses story, in which the Hebrews escape from bondage through magic. The central tale in the New Testament is the Jesus story, culminating in the crucifixion, a clear depiction of pain and bondage, which Jesus ultimately transcends through his resurrection. Our human bodies and brains confine us; we must, in a sense, transcend them to experience mystical truth. We must surrender to that which is greater than ourselves.

KJ: You are sixty-one years old, and this is your first novel. Why didn’t you start writing sooner?

RSG: I actually started writing when I was quite young. I had a poem published in our school newspaper when I was in second grade. When I was a senior in high school I won a first prize in the Scholastic Magazine’s National Short Story competition. I majored in English Literature and Creative Writing in college. But as a young man, certain realities became evident to me. The type of fiction I wanted to write was never going to have especially wide commercial appeal, and would not be able to support me. And at that age, I truly don’t believe I possessed the self-discipline or maturity to write effectively. Instead, I came up with a plan to pursue a career in the corporate sector, to save and invest wisely, to retire at a relatively young age, and write for the rest of my life. Everybody I knew told me it would never work, because I couldn’t possibly accumulate enough money to make it happen, and even if I could, by the time I retired I’d be too tired and unmotivated to write. I proved them wrong though. I believe that my lifelong practice of Yoga, vegetarianism, and meditation helped keep me healthy and enthused, and enabled me to resist many of the material temptations that devour so much wealth. I retired at fifty-six and began
writing “The Swami Deheftner.” I’m currently working on my second novel, and hope to continue writing as long as I’m able.

KJ: Thank you so much for your time. Good luck with your book; I found it quite fascinating and enlightening.

Interview by Ken Jakobs, San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer, librettist,
director, and producer: englishoperatranslations.com
More information on the novel “The Swami Deheftner” can be found on the
book’s website: theswamideheftner.com

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