BOOK REVIEW | KISSED BY A DEER
By Katie Hodgetts
Wanderlust [noun]. Definition: a strong desire to travel. We’ve all felt it, that desire to change our luck and date destiny. A calling for more, to be content with less. Making the move to uproot normality, in a daring exchange for the unknown, to forfeit our lives to the cosmic choreographer. Some dream it, and some do it – take the wonderful Margi Gibb as an example.
Margi Gibb’s debut memoir Kissed by a Deer: A Tibetan Odyssey details her journey from Goa to America, to Dharamsala and eventually to Tibet. After the painful loss of her father, it is in these places that Margi tries to find solace and meaning, but that’s not all she finds. Entangled in her travels, she found love, friendships, her strengths and weaknesses, and finally, I believe, wisdom.
It is this mix of narratives that I found to be the book’s key strength. Margi commented on this: “I wrote the book on four levels: the first level was the mythology, the spirituality, where I used the image of the deer to explore different things; the second level was the political. [the oppressive relationship between] China and Tibet, and the contrasts between Eastern and Western life; the third level was the relationships, which is what most people see; and finally the fourth, which was the personal and the philosophical.” Because of this, each page turn leads the reader into starkly different places; some pages could be from ‘a manual for life’, some could be from a women’s fiction novel, and some could be from the most introspective entries of a journal.
Over Kissed by a Deer’s 400 pages, you really get to know Margi Gibb not as a nomadic, fearless traveller, but as a human being. She is no shining deity, she is no reincarnate prophet; she is a human being, who feels the ache of loss, the hunger of infatuation and the flame of irritation. Her portrayal of herself and experience is not through rose-tinted glasses, but through a raw lens of honesty that doesn’t always align to the fairytale ending.
She comments on this: “It was really hard not to disguise myself. The reason I did that – that raw honesty – is because I think it’s part of the spiritual journey. It isn’t just about taking on some external belief system, practising and transforming – to go through transformation, that has to involve the self, and that means acknowledging every part of the self – the shadow and the light. Working on all those aspects of ourselves can be really messy, which is why a lot of us don’t – we protect ourselves with fear because it’s tough. That was the scariest part for me – to show my weaknesses.”
One part of this honesty lay in the relationships of the book, which were seldom poetic or whimsical, as the mysticism of Tibet would prescribe. Margi stresses: “It’s important for women that our stories aren’t just about happy endings with men, which is what we’ve been sold all our lives. Eat Pray Love sets the bar too high – really – how did she do that? It was important that it was about women respecting themselves. Our whole makeup has been detailed since childhood and sleeping beauty – someone will come rescue you and wake you up. It’s about self-acceptance.” This powerful message shines through the latter half of the book, and Margi manages to combine an entertaining story with lessons in life.
It would be a disservice to the readership not to pick the brains of this nomad, so I will highlight some of the wonderful answers the very pleasant Margi Gibb gave as I interviewed her.
How would you describe the book in three words? (four with discrepancy)
Experience of living. Experience of being alive.
Who is your target market?
Other human beings. What I’m finding out from the feedback is that the market is quite substantive. I’m amazed that men like it. Travellers and spiritual seekers love it. There’s the recovery movement – this book was the recovery moment of a relapse. I am also acting as a voice for Tibet.
What drives you to travel; what sparked your desire to travel?
Then what was driving me was the loss and the grief. And the need to find some sense of life. I can think of no greater experience of being alive than moving through different landscapes and people, and seeing nature and understanding.
What was one of the greatest lessons you learnt from the experience and the book?
The very first words in the book are from my father, and almost the last words are too. What I tried to do there was to frame wisdom and love and compassion in everyday life. So my Dad was an everyday guy, a poor man, but he taught me a great lesson about love when I went through that experience with him. We tend to feel that this wisdom lies with others or it has to be the Dalai Llama, but we’re all human beings, and I believe the wisdom lies in how you learn to love each other, so we are all each others’ teachers. It’s about how we are open to that experience. I wanted to frame that in the words of a simple man; “I don’t think I’m going to make it this time, honey… It’s okay. We all make mistakes”.
That’s beautiful; I think that aspect of you merely being a normal person on the quest for more makes the book incredibly accessible and relatable.
Yes, we’ve all been there – “I’m obsessed with this stupid guy!” Part of that honesty was because most people who go travelling are broken, they are looking for healing. And I would’ve loved to write a book about me going to Tibet and it was all magical and mystical – but who does that (apart from Liz Gilbert)? Most of us don’t have that experience.
You have gone through a lot of pain in your life – what advice do you have for people struck by the inevitable sword of loss and pain?
To live life one day at a time. Get up and do your best to move forward. That can be very difficult for those in grief. I think I was trying to outrun my grief – we all deal with it in different ways until we learn to live with that grief. I think you need to give that to the cosmic choreographer. More than anything I wanted to be wild, wild and free, free my whole life. My attempt at freedom – the great escape!
A very accessible travel memoir, that is multi-layered, well written and inspiring. It is a testament to living a kind life with an open heart. Though gripping in its narrative, characters and relationships, the novel is awash with philosophical matter, leaving contemplations of gratitude, meaning of personal life and travel considerations. Seek and you shall find, or as Margi puts it, “Nothing changes if nothing changes”.
Katie Hodgetts is a philanthropist by day, and a dragon-keeper by night. IG: @weltgeisttt