From the writer whose debut novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey, continues to charm readers around the world comes a modern fairy tale about a man who finds his true calling in a foreign land.
Featuring rich descriptions and a cast of eccentric characters, this is a contemporary fable about a Japanese Buddhist priest who ends up finding himself in the unlikeliest of places.
Growing up in a quaint mountainside village in Japan, Seido Oda spent his boyhood fishing in clear mountainside streams and helping his parents run their small inn. At the age of 11, Oda is sent to study with the monks at a nearby Buddhist temple. This peaceful, quiet refuge in the remote mountains of Japan becomes home for the introverted monk - until he approaches his 40th birthday and is ordered by his superior to cross the ocean and open a temple in Brooklyn.
Ripped from the isolated, serene life of his homeland temple, Oda receives a shock to his system in New York - a motley crew of American Buddhists whose misguided practices lead to a host of hilarious cultural misunderstandings. It is only when Oda comes to appreciate the Americans, flaws and all, that he sees his own shortcomings and finally finds that sense of belonging he has always sought.
A lively and vivid novel, this entertaining and edifying meditation on the meaning of true acceptance stirs from the very first page.
Richard C. Morais, author of The Hundred-Foot Journey, is a contributing editor at Barron’s in New York. An American raised in Switzerland, he was stationed in London for 17 years, where he was Forbes’ European bureau chief.
"In exquisite prose, Buddhaland Brooklyn illuminates the hearts of wholly different cultures - an isolated Buddhist monastery; bustling New York - and also the universal truths of human life. Reverend Seido Oda’s journey from shutdown, haughty priest to compassionate religious leader is a profoundly moving one making for a complex, beautiful book that lingers in the imagination long after the last line is read." (Robin Black, author of If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This)
"Morais’s latest follows Seido, a Japanese Buddhist priest whose attachment to ritual fortifies him against the heartbreak of his youth.... By leaving the austere orderliness of Japan and entering the noisy hodgepodge of Brooklyn, Seido finds, for the first time, a community.... A breezy read that ably moves to a predictable feel-good resolution." (Publishers Weekly)
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A beautiful story of transformation
It was not my favorite, but I would place it on the list of those that are worthy of remembering and recommending to others.
The moments of transformation toward the end, when Seido Oda has a deep recognition of how his own attitude has been his greatest enemy--that it has kept him from finding the connections with other people he has been wishing for. He has tried to accomplish this through his intelligence and his standing as the temple priest, and has to discover that those qualities--while they often bring respect, usually do not--alone--bring closeness.
I think he is a very sensitive reader--did all the parts very well.
Perhaps Michael or "Miss Jennifer" (two people who ultimately were key in helping Oda shift to a more comfortable, related human stance). Each of them had been hurt by events in life (as Oda had, himself) and they had their own ways of retreating from certain life connectedness (one more than the other)--but they allowed themselves to be more overtly vulnerable than Oda. He had allowed the role of Buddhist priest to shelter him from having to face his own grief--finding comforts in it (at least in Japan) through the solitary but secure life, his poetry and painting, and his prayers and ordered lifestyle.
I feel there are parallel stories played out here-- Oda, who has experienced deep grief as a child and found solace only in the semi-isolation of the priesthood, discovers westerners who have also suffered in various ways. Though at first he holds himself above and apart from them--thinking himself different--he eventually discovers that they share a lot in common, and he becomes freer to express long-repressed aspects of himself.
Although the theme of this book is about Buddhism, it was not (in my opinion) his Buddhist faith, or his being Japanese (exactly) that touched me (even though they surely both speak of ways of being that are considered less open and forward than the American culture), so much as the universal theme of managing grief and hurt.
The cultural differences dictated the way everyone understood their situations, but Oda's pride, his withholding of himself, was more than simply culture (because even other Buddhist priests commented on it to him). It was, it seemed to me, a stance he had adopted as the best way of handling feelings he could not otherwise have processed at the time--in the situation he was in. And his culture provided an avenue for that. (I'd like to say more--but fear it would turn into a spoiler).
He was seeking enlightenment--the Buddhist term he understood and fits the story, but I think that there are other terms that also would touch on the same thing--such as wholeness, transformation, acceptance, being genuine. And that is the way that East and West come together in this book. We all have the potential to find parts of self that are pushed far back--and at times, it is only extreme circumstances that provides the opportunity to do so.
The quest to find, acknowledge and heal the hurt parts of ourselves are not isolated to one culture--regardless of how we may name them differently. Oda had to find a way to claim parts of himself that he could not at first imagine. But only in doing so was he able to truly recognize himself as fully human--one who could relate in a genuine way to people around him.
This is a lovely book--one that has beautiful descriptions of Oda's early life in Japan. It also has some very good observations about the discomfort people feel in meeting others who have different styles of being in the world. Watching the ways they all came to learn and grow from mutual observations and interactions made this a very endearing story.