Sacred Outcast

Anti-Oedipus Press • 2017
Paperback: 125 pages • 5 x 8 • $12.95 • ISBN 978-0-9905733-9-5
Kindle: $4.95


Thirty-five years ago, American author Harold Jaffe traveled throughout India. The place that made the strongest impression on him was the holy Hindu city of Varanasi (also known as Benares or Kashi). In 2015, he returned to Varanasi for six months and wrote Sacred Outcast: Dispatches from India, which, unexpectedly, melded his current stay with his India travels over three decades ago. The “dispatches" combine close description with narrative, dialogue, fantasy, and an ongoing interrogation of the caste system. In times when official cruelty dominates, Jaffe uncovers the sacred beauty of an oppressed, wounded people, chronicling their maladies and long suffering.


"When the American writer returns to the holy Hindu city of Varanasi he travels not only through space but time. Chronicling injustices and maladies along the way, he finds also the sacred beauty of the wounded . . . Jaffe locates the sacred among 'untouchables with mobiles,' among the survivors in a leper colony, in 'a dark-skinned, low-caste little girl, maybe five years old, who stands barefoot on the stone ghat facing the Ganges playing notes on a wooden flute.' This is a beautiful book." —Ilya Kaminsky

"Harold Jaffe is a master storyteller, weaving personal experiences and impressions with a deep knowledge of place and history. His language is beautiful and seductive. Sacred Outcast reveals and explores Varanasi on many levels and opens the reader to a spacious understanding." —Catherine Jansen

"Harold Jaffe has been by turns our coffee and our Courvoisier—our wake-up call and delectation. In the age of Trump, he's our water, Sacred Outcast the unfiltered stuff from deep beneath our blasted surface." —Lawrence-Min Bui Davis

“Jaffe’s portraits of the dispossessed are moving, insightful glimpses of the human spirit under stress.” —New York Times Book Review

“Jaffe is to fiction what Merce Cunningham is to dance, what John Cage is to verbal-musical presentation.” —Newsday

“As always, Jaffe’s writing is moving, comical, marvelously deft.” —Washington Post

“Jaffe’s writing is like no one else writing today.” —American Book Review


HAROLD JAFFE is the author of 26 volumes of fiction, novels, docufiction and essays, most recently Goosestep, Induced ComaDeath CaféAnti-Twitter: 150 50-Word StoriesODParis 60Revolutionary Brain and Othello Blues. His books have been translated into 15 languages and he has received many accolades, among them two NEA grants, two Fulbright fellowships and three Pushcart Prizes. Jaffe teaches literature at San Diego State University and is editor-in-chief of Fiction International.



  1. Gratitude to David Harlan Wilson and Norman Conquest for their ongoing support of my writing and for the elegant work they do printing and formatting my books.

  2. I consider myself blessed to have collaborated with Harold Jaffe and to have had the opportunity to design quite a few of his books. I've admired his work for many years and it just keeps getting better. SACRED OUTCAST raises the bar even higher.

  3. One of very many things I appreciate about Harold Jaffe is his devotion to art, to the responsibility of art. His most recent months-long trip to India inspired this set of piercingly beautiful docufictions that is SACRED OUTCAST. I am ever grateful for this book and the extensive body of work Jaffe has produced.

  4. With passionate sensitivity to the suffering of Varanasi's Untouchables and neglected animals, Harold Jaffe's emotionally powerful narrative reveals disturbing contradictions.

    "Sacred" cows are malnourished, covered with sores, even butchered, despite their official "protected" status; lepers are still ostracized and forced into beggary; religious carnivals go on day by day "so that devotion is transformed into an opiate which keeps millions of impoverished low-castes perennially celebrating. After which they return to squalor."

    Through Jaffe's piercing observations, we come to realize that the sacredness of Varanasi resides in the very spirit of its humans who are most abused hence the most pious: "weakened from not eating, from scrubbing toilets, from false devotion, from being born Dalit.”

    Sacred Outcast: Dispatches from India is another brilliant volume from one of the lamentably few American writers who continues to underscore the suffering of the dispossessed.

  5. The ugly truth about living in a world where so many people suffer so much is that we often must remind ourselves to stay open to suffering that is not our own. It would be too easy to become closed to others and thus to close off a part of ourselves from feeling. Sacred Outcast demonstrates the power of art to let us stay grounded in the "heart" of the world without despairing in its pain.

  6. Harold Jaffe’s Sacred Outcast is a hybrid work of docufiction that simultaneously occupies the space of travelogue, spiritual journey and short story collection, chronicling the author’s return to Varanasi after more than three decades away from the holy Hindi city. Written—as it was lived—during the winter of 2015, the stories here overlap with the November 2015 attacks in Paris and Beirut, both of which are addressed directly in texts such as Donkey and Tulsi Ghat Kashi. Yet all of the stories here seem to be permeated with an edge of despair, even mourning for a world incapable of reconciling its spiritual needs with its increasingly unsupportable material existence. Hence just as Buddha Earth gives us the image of a steadfast Siddhartha being menaced by “Mara, lord of strife and covetousness” so too does Acid give us the disturbing portrait of 24-year-old Siddhartha Srivastava, who hurls acid on a Russian tourist after she spurns his marriage proposal. What emerges finally is a vision of “digital India,” populated by “Untouchables with mobiles” and macaque monkeys chewing through the fiber-optic cables that now line the banks of the Ganges. As Jaffe writes, "Everywhere are incongruous signs of digital India."

  7. Sacred Outcasts: Dispatches from India—O’Clancy Comments

    I impatient to take up the chase, to discover the position and the method, am instead dizzy and nourished by Harold Jaffe’s maddeningly astute Dispatches, the rise and rumble of the read. Like an intellectual haymaker to the heart, Sacred Outcasts will more than likely leave readers, including those familiar with Jaffe’s broad body of work, off-guard—pent with disturbing questions and sad replies—yet, ready to strike the most powerful blow against contemporary repressions: about Earth’s human inhabitants, “but also animal, vegetable, petrified wood, the integrated organic pulse that maintains breath against seductions of greed and power;” about “untouchables with mobiles” who live barefoot “in cardboard shanties,” and perform ablutions under threat of death by leopard; about underfed goats which grant milk, run over and abandoned donkeys, and uncooperative macaque monkeys taking revenge on fiber-optic cables; about Muslims “lynched for allegedly butchering cattle,” and sacred cows exterminated “both officially and unofficially in Hindu-run abattoirs throughout India;” about a “sacred/underfed cow” resting “in the middle of the tumult” with an “ownerless underfed mutt” sleeping on its back, “the plaintive single note shriek of a scavenging homeless dog side-swiped by a tuk-tuk,” and a driver who, unlike Orpheus, “does not look back;” about “sacred sunrises” on the River Ganges, and postcards that describe the continual burning of smoking corpses; about the inability to “see the color of the sky,” and inherited servitude that “imprisons dreams.” Disquieting. Creatures suffer. And, Jaffe asks, “How does the Ganges itself smell?” and “How do you attain liberation from samsara in a culture predicated on slavery?” And I, still swaying on the vast banks and currents of Jaffe’s textual infecting of the heart and head, wonder—am I, too, capable of seeing with the spirit-eye?

    - Andy O'Clancy