My favourite thing about blogging is getting books through the post to review, and I have been pretty lucky so far not have reviewed anything I disliked. So, here is my latest review of ‘Buddhaland Brooklyn’ by Richard C. Morais from Alma Books, and your chance to win one of two copies of the book!
‘Buddhaland Brooklyn’ sees a traditional Buddhist monk, Seido Oda, weary of the outside modern world, torn away from the remote temple he has grown up in and thrust into the hustle and bustle of New York to oversee the construction and development of the city’s first Buddhist temple. Frustrated with what he sees to be false American believers who cannot possibly grasp the fundamental concepts of Buddhism, he is forced to attend grand charity dinners and fashion shows, and mingle with the most New York of New Yorkers. There are three parts to the book; Seido’s inauguration into the Buddhist temple and life in remote Mount Nagata, his early months in New York and resistance to and criticism of most things American, and, finally, his gradual integration into Brooklyn life and growing relationships with the people around him.
I have to say that Morais has a wonderful way with words and, on several occasions, I found his writing almost poetic. There are plenty of parts of the book I could pick as an example but I have managed to limit just one, where Seido recalls fishing with his brother as a child:
‘Onii-san turned around and walked back to his own fishing spot at the tail of the pool. I cast a final look in his direction as he took up his fishing rod again on the far side of the rock, his fly elegantly cast out on the water. The setting sun hit the angle of the waterfall spray just so, transforming the fine droplets of mist into an airborne diamond dust, and in this dappled light my brother stood alone, slowly passing into the coming night.’
On the other hand, you have very amusing observations of the frustrating and foreign behaviours exhibited by the New York Buddhists. Seido, the most traditional of Buddhist monks in the most modern of American cities, is shocked and appalled by the behaviour of these Believers he is meant to guide in the founding of their new temple. The problem is, they do not seem to treat it anywhere near as seriously as he expects them to be.
‘The Believers rustled their bags, hauled out tinfoil packets with all manner of foods, even opened Coca-Cola cans with a pop and hiss like they were at a picnic, not a religious ceremony. I was almost rendered speechless by this behaviour. Miss Laura, the physical therapist with big eyes and bigger chest, wore a bright-red dress and followed my every move with great hunger in her eyes, but I was not at all sure her appetite was for the tranquil light.’
The clash of cultures is my favourite thing about ‘Buddhaland Brooklyn’. New York is portrayed as an eclectic and ethnically diverse city, with too many wealthy white Americans with more money than sense and other ethnic groups who see no problem in blending religious and cultural practices, none of which Seido shows much patience for. The New York characters are wide-ranging and entertaining and, as you read on, you discover that there is a lot more to them than Seido’s first impressions. There’s the rich elevator salesman who believes ‘Buddhism works’ because his business recovered after he prayed to Buddha, a glamorous borderline sex addict, a passionate Italian landlord, a Caribbean woman who simultaneously worships at a Buddhist and ‘pagan’ alter, and a self-proclaimed Buddhism teacher who’s entire knowledge comes from books such as “Buddhism for dummies”.
It felt appropriate reading this book on the London underground, where people of all walks of life are crammed into a small space and yet never even make eye contact. In commuter mode, I could sympathise with the overwhelmed country-bumpkin Seido in the swelling mass that was Brooklyn. However, he does grow to love Brooklyn and, indeed, finds his unlikely Buddhaland in the city. This is a story of old meets new and traditional versus ultra-modern.
So, here’s your chance to win one of two copies of the book and find your own Buddhaland! To enter, simply like Alma Books on Facebook and leave a comment on this blog post, telling us where your own personal Buddhaland is. Entries close at Friday 31 May and two winners will be emailed at random for their postal address.