Passage to India

Stories From a Senate Legend's Bohemian Daughter--Plus Other New Books, Summer Reading Suggestions, and More

By: William O'Sullivan

MAURA MOYNIHAN HAS A BOOK COMING out next month, but first things first.

"This morning I rushed out like a teenager and bought the new Madonna album," she says, "and it's so bad." Moynihan once shared a rehearsal studio with Madonna before the diva was famous. "She was absolutely brilliant, but boy, she's sure lost it."

Back then, the Harvard-educated Moynihan was a Warhol girl--Andy Warhol launched her music career with Maura and the Mystics, and she later worked with him at Interview magazine.

Other lines on her résumé include painter, actress, dress designer, radio host, and human-rights activist. But even though her book, Yoga Hotel, is her first published in this country, she considers herself primarily a writer--just like her father, the late US senator, ambassador, and academic Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

"He always said he was first and foremost a writer," she says.

What did the bow-tied intellectual think of his daughter's bohemian life?

"At first my parents were concerned--'Oh, my God, Andy Warhol has our daughter'--but Dad loved him. Andy was one of the smartest guys I ever met, a guy with a $700-million fortune he made entirely from his art, and that impressed Dad."

Yoga Hotel, a collection of short stories, was previously published in India, where Moynihan has lived off and on. She became acquainted with the country as a tenth-grader when her father was appointed US ambassador in 1973.

"The moment the plane landed and I smelled India," she says, "I had the sense of returning home."

In the book, comedy alternates with gravity as Moynihan explores culture clashes: An Indian houseboy becomes entangled with one of his American boss's girlfriends; a young woman at the US Embassy gets more attention than she bargained for from a group of Indians eager for visas.

In "Masterji," a circle of seekers attends a retreat with a spiritual teacher. One of them, a young American woman named Sam who grew up in India, is desperate to stay behind--in "the sublime, brilliant world of her childhood."

"Sam is me," Moynihan says. "I felt that way for years. That's part of being a Foreign Service kid. It was very hard to make the transition back to the US."

Moynihan graduated from the American International School--a.k.a. "Hindi High." After college and her Warhol sojourn, she returned, working for years as an advocate for Tibetan refugees.

"Dad taught me you shouldn't be frivolous," she says. "When I started getting interested in Tibet work, he said, 'If you're going to be serious about this, you be dead serious.' " She's now writing a novel about that country. But she hasn't completely left her bohemian life behind--she's releasing a CD of songs to coincide with the book.

These days Moynihan, 46, splits her time between New York City and DC, where she lives in a "family apartment" on Pennsylvania Avenue with her mother and 12-year-old son. She visits India when she can.

Recalling her Warhol years, she says, "In the back of my mind, all I ever wanted was to be in India. I still do."

Wisdom and Compassion

"BY MY MID-FORTIES, IT'S FINALLY become clear to me that perhaps two of the only things that generate profit from the currency of suffering are the slow accumulation of wisdom and compassion. But I'm beginning to think that, in this life, they're worth a lot."

--From A Place to Land: Lost and Found in an Unlikely Friendship by Arlington psychologist Martha Manning. The memoir, published this month, tells of the bond between Manning, who is white, and an African-American single mother she met through a shelter's Secret Santa program. Manning was suffering from depression, a subject the book explores along with prejudice, poverty, and a child's medical crisis.

What Else Is New

BETHESDA JOURNALIST BETH BROPHY'S first novel, My Ex-Best Friend, is a murder mystery set in Washington. No sooner does the main character hear from an estranged friend than she finds the friend dead.

First-time novelist and Washington native Leslie Marshall's A Girl Could Stand Up also takes place here. It's the offbeat story of a girl raised by two eccentric uncles. Marshall, a magazine writer, went to National Cathedral School, was once former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee's daughter-in-law, and recently married onetime Massachusetts governor William Weld.

Former New York Times Magazine editor Edward Klein investigates The Kennedy Curse: Why America's First Family Remains Haunted After 150 Years.

Walter Isaacson--president of the Aspen Institute and a former editor at Time--has a new book, Benjamin Frankin: An American Life.

Breaking Her Fall is George Mason University creative-writing professor Stephen Goodwin's novel about a Washington father whose attempt to protect his teenage daughter from danger throws his life into turmoil.

On the Horizon

WATCH FOR THESE NEW TITLES IN August: DC-based New York Times reporter Christopher Marquis has written his first novel, A Hole in the Heart. Set in Alaska, it's the quirky story of a young schoolteacher coping after her husband disappears.

Sheri Holman's The Mammoth Cheese is set in a fictional Virginia town whose residents try to re-create a Jefferson-era, 1,235-pound cheese and transport it to Washington as a gift for the president. Holman grew up in Ashland.

Quantico Rules is the debut novel by former FBI agent Gene Riehl. It's a thriller about an agent who uncovers scandal while investigating a female Supreme Court nominee.

Shaking the Tree: A Collection of New Fiction and Memoir by Black Women is edited by District writer Meri Nana-Ana Danquah.

In The New Brain: How the Modern Age Is Rewiring Your Mind, George Washington University neurologist Richard Restak explains in lay terms the influence of the Internet, cell phones, laptops, and other factors on our brains.

More Summer Reading

AUTHORS TONY HORWITZ AND HIS wife, Geraldine Brooks, who live in Waterford, Virginia, recommend these books:

Horwitz, whose most recent workis Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, says: "Brian Hall's new novel about Lewis and Clark, I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company, is narrated by the explorers and those they encounter, including Sacagawea. It's gripping, experimental, and as beautifully written as it is impeccably researched--the best historical fiction I've read since Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain."

Brooks, whose books include Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, plans to read James Wood's first novel, The Book Against God: "I heard Wood read from it when it was a work in progress. That and his elegant, merciless literary criticism in the New Republic make me confident that it will be a delicious--and vicious--look at modern life."

Andrew Frank, president of Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge in DC, suggests Franz Kafka's The Trial: "It's the story of a bank employee accused by a mysterious legal authority of an unnamed crime of which he knows nothing. I read it one summer before the Berlin Wall came down. I'm sure my take on it would be different today in light of arrests of fellow Americans in the post-9/11 hysteria. Most Washingtonians will relate to the head-banging bureaucracy."

Sara Mansfield Taber, a Chevy Chase writer whose books include Bread of Three Rivers: The Story of a French Loaf, suggests Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller: "A memoir by a woman who grew up in several southern-African countries. It's an amazing peek into the lives of hard-drinking, racist white farmers and the resourcefulness of a kid growing up with little protection from adults. It's written in a fun, quirky, almost uproarious voice."

In the Works

OCTOGENARIAN AND SOMETIME Georgetown resident Herman Wouk (The Winds of War) is working on the novel A Hole in Texas. Former Washington Post reporter Haynes Johnson is writing The Age of Anxiety, about the legacy of McCarthyism. Lawyer and former HEW secretary Joseph Califano's book in progress about his Washington life is called Inside.

"All I ever wanted was to be in India," Maura Moynihan says. "I still do."