Elevate Difference

Are You My Guru? How Medicine, Meditation, and Madonna Saved my Life

Are You My Guru: How Medicine, Meditation, and Madonna Saved My Life is Wendy Shanker’s follow-up to The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life. It is a hilarious and inspiring account of Shanker’s battle with Wegener’s disease, a rare autoimmune disease that results in inflammation of blood vessels in various organs. Using her love of Madonna as well as her journey in trying to find treatment in traditional and alternative forms of medicine, Shanker dangerously treads Eat Pray Love territory but ultimately gives an honest account of her journey.

The book reads like an open conversation, and I could hear Shanker telling me about her struggles to juggle a fatal disease, her weight, and her stressful work life. Rather than writing as a distant and wise survivor, Shanker writes as a relatable source, another person struggling with her own conflict. Her strength is in writing about the struggles to maintain both physical and spiritual health, and how the two correlate. Rather than reading as a self-help novel, Shanker’s work serves as a self-reflection piece, serving as a conversation piece in understanding how we define health today, particularly as it pertains to women.

While Shanker clearly states that her book is her own journey with finding peace with her condition, Are You My Guru began to resemble Eat Pray Love in some of its more contrived moments of enlightenment. While Shanker used these moments sparingly, I was still hesitant about some of the conveniently “miraculous” moments of the book. Both Gilbert and Shanker speak of random moments of clarity, or messages from God in the most tight of situations. While some of Shanker’s more convenient moments (i.e something she prays for coming true at that moment), may be true, maybe the skeptic in me believes that those moments are there more for substance. Some may read her book and try to use it as the foundation of their own treatment of their own difficulties. However, Shanker is far clearer than Gilbert in cautioning readers that this was her own journey. Her book serves as an encouragement to find a regiment that suits the reader personally. Unlike Gilbert, Shanker maintains her ability to maintain intimacy with the reader.

Though I was more skeptical of some of the more “lucky” moments, where passages were stylized for the sake of substance, these moments did appear sparingly. I think the strongest aspect of Are You My Guru is Shanker’s relentless and honest optimism. Despite the hardships that are constantly thrown at her, she never asks the reader for pity, and that strength is inspiring. Shanker also changed my view of Madonna, someone that I did not really give much thought to as a feminist icon. However, her relationship with her idol is very poignant and entertaining.

Overall, I recommend Are You My Guru. Shanker is honest, vibrant, and hilarious, and I found her story to be thought provoking and well written.

Written by: Sara Yasin, November 13th 2010