What is Shaman Express about?
Shaman Express is a novel cowritten by Omar Beretta and Bénédicte Rousseau. It was published on 31 May 2018 under the pseudonym Beretta Rousseau and is available for purchase worldwide on online retail platforms.
Shaman Express is a provocative, emotional, and deeply humorous novel about the dangers of pursuing enlightenment. Omar and Benedetta, a recovering addict and an eccentric divorcee respectively, embark together on a journey with the intention of writing a book on experiential shamanism. They will never write it, but it does not matter, for their truth lies elsewhere — somewhere deeper and darker. As they move between pastoral Tuscany, the rugged steppes of Siberia, and the crowded streets of Thailand, Omar and Benedetta are thrown into their shadows and the darkest corners of their psyche to be born again. It’s a multilayered process, like the structure of an onion. They peel back the layers of their lives and learn to walk close to the spirits. Omar discovers that he has the power to stay clean, while Benedetta lets go of the past and regains ownership of her life.
With the purpose of attending a shamanic workshop with Omar in Irkutsk, Benedetta enters Russia illegally on false medical grounds, which leads her to being interrogated by the police after she and Omar survive a shipwreck on Lake Baikal, and to bribing authorities for a smooth exit out of the country. In Siberia, when a local shaman gives them shelter, Omar and Benedetta undergo a profound spiritual experience rooted in the reawakening of their indigenous soul and connection to ancestral lineages.
By the time they are escorted out of Russia, Omar nonetheless remains convinced that Benedetta is the mother of the next Messiah-shaman – like a virus rewriting itself to avoid detection, addictions can crawl back under new codes – preparing for the most spectacular relapse: Yaa baa pills and racing like thunder in the streets of Bangkok in another aborted attempt to feel alive. What will it take to awaken? Omar and Benedetta are extravagant, somewhere between superstars and antiheroes. Everything about them seems extreme, from past to present experiences.
Transgression of boundaries, leading to extreme violence at times, is a theme at the core of Shaman Express. The story alternates between ordinary reality and non-ordinary reality, the borders of which become blurred along the way. Omar and Benedetta have been confronted by abuse since childhood, leading to unresolved traumas as adults, which jeopardizes their ability to place healthy boundaries on themselves and others. When Omar goes under the needle, one cannot help wondering whether a line is crossed by the Ajarn, the Sak Yant tattoo artist, considering that Omar is in a state of mental confusion and expresses his unwillingness and unreadiness to receive an imposing Rishi. The Sak Yant is traditionally chosen by the monk giving the sacred bamboo tattoo. The Rishi is the sage, the hermit, the wise one. One the other hand, while in Bangkok, Benedetta is soaked in the destructive vortex of Frank, her ex-psychiatrist and lover, in an archetypally poignant scene in which she is forced into smoking crack and is sexually abused.
However, by reminiscing about childhood events, she accesses the root cause of her suffering and finds the strength to walk away from Frank. As she states, “amid piss, vomit, alcohol and drugs, my life was starting to make sense, to my biggest surprise.” Abuse, of course, but also addictions, habits, and how we navigate them as human beings run like red threads for Omar and Benedetta as they travel together and plant the seeds of their own healing and recovery.
T.S. Eliot wrote, So, the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. I believe that is true. Omar and Benedetta are invited into a dance of alchemical transformation. Tragic episodes are dissolved in humor and derision, such as in a memorable scene in the first chapter, when Benedetta, in a canary-yellow dress and perched on overpriced stilettos, jumps out a first-floor window with outstretched arms in a failed attempt to test her magic skills, or rather in an audacious exit from life. Shaman Express portrays human emotions with unusual intensity, yet the emotions are real and aliveness is at stake. There is a deep connection between Omar and Benedetta that transcends the story and creates the conditions for their spiritual growth. Despite differences — in gender, sexual orientation, culture, and generation — they are two sides of the same coin. They transgress the sociocultural constructs of our times and are genuinely kind.
Shaman Express is a novel that successfully blends genres: literary fiction, offbeat, spiritual, the road novel. It gives room to the power and spirit of places. To a certain extent, it also embraces magic realism, suspense, and LGBT. However, rather than losing itself in a large palette of genres, it celebrates the diversity of life. I tend to think this is a refreshing thought in a world that is obsessed with shallow performance and consumerism. Shaman Express is the result of a literary collaboration between two authors and taps into their own personal experiences. Writing the book is the medicine is repeated like a mantra in our novel. When we started to write Shaman Express, I did not know where this journey would lead me personally, but I knew that this was the way to go.
So, just as Omar and Benedetta, I took a leap of faith and decided to surrender to the mysteries of this tortuous path of writing. Soon enough, I was also thrown into an alchemical swirl. Welcome to the world of Shaman Express. I hope that you enjoy the ride!
By Bénédicte Rousseau, www.benedicterousseau.com
Shaman Express by Beretta Rousseau (2018) is available for purchase online.