About the Book
On the cusp of thirty, Jamila has achieved the hard-earned ability to live her life as an I, not a we. But this elusive achievement is thrown off when she falls in love with Salam, an Indian pastry chef and writer, temporarily in New York City. Salam is the first person besides her twin, David, she longs to be paired with. Their romance is passionate but doomed. Jamila’s suicide attempt as the affair breaks apart calls David back to New York to ensure his sister’s safety from herself.
David is going through his own personal and spiritual crisis while he helps his twin. At the age of eight David started down a path apart from anyone else he knew, the path of a devoted Buddhist and eventually his taking the vows of a bodhisattva. He miraculously gains access to the mentorship of the highest Lama, becoming a student of the fourteenth Dalai Lama. During his late 20’s, he wanders around the Himalayan plateau of Sichuan Province, Tibet, ignoring the instructions of his lifelong mentor to enter a monastery there. Instead, he obsessively follows a self-immolation survivor who he longs to connect with, in a similar fashion to his twin sister’s insatiable desire for connection.
The twins’ reunion in New York coincides with a devastating trend of self-immolations in Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s own conviction that he must alter Tibetan Buddhist tradition in an unthinkable way if the culture is to survive at all.
For Readers and Book Clubs: Practice Dying Reading Guide
“Like the best novels, Rachel Stolzman Gullo’s Practice Dying deals with life’s biggest questions, among them: how do we find the courage to live and love in the face of all our collective suffering? Full of surprise encounters leading to even more surprising developments, this is a novel for seekers, like twins Jamila and David, for whom every day is an urgent and beautiful quest for connection and enlightenment.” — Leland Cheuk, author of The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong and Letters From Dinosaurs
“Practice Dying is a beautiful meditation on the fear of need, the need for love, and the uncertain nature of faith. Taking us from Dharamsala to New York and back again, Rachel Stolzman Gullo manages to weave a tale both as quiet as breath and as powerful as the blood pumping through our veins.” — Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet and June
“Practice Dying is a remarkably moving story of love in its many forms, familial, spiritual and sensual. Rachel Stolzman Gullo has written a radiant novel that will enchant readers and remind them of the need we all have—to be truly seen by those we love.” – Julia Fierro, author of The Gypsy Moth Summer and Cutting Teeth
FOR THE FIRST eight years of my life I was a we. My world and David’s world were the same. I didn’t foresee that change would come. I didn’t know that twins eventually led their own lives.
We were always referred to as “the twins.” Our thoughts commingled in our heads before a word was uttered, and we spoke the same words together. Only one of us needed to speak. “We’re tired now; we want something to drink; can we play outside?”
So when David began to have thoughts I had no access to, to dream of things I’d never dream of, and to travel to unknown places to receive teachings I’d never learn, I wasn’t ready. When David found his calling, he seemed to find a new twin in the world, and I was suddenly without one, blindsided. No longer moving through life in synchronicity with David, I felt I’d lost an eye, turned deaf in one ear.
As we grew up I more-or-less learned how to say “I,” but not without moments of utter failure, when I felt like an un-whole person, a half of something. Still, I did have my own existence, a woman who was born a twin, but lived alone.