I have long been an advocate for Richard Morais' phenomenal novel, 'The Hundred-Foot Journey', a story that grabbed me as soon as I set my eyes on the first paragraph. Many of my friends and family members have heard all about it; I'm still waiting to learn if they've read it. My review for this wonderful book appeared in a post from August 2011.
As with all good authors we've come to admire, I've wondered when Mr. Morais would be releasing a new story. "When?" Book Hog asked Simon & Schuster. "When..."
When, I'm happy to report, is now.
I was delighted to learn that Mr. Morais has a new novel...and I just finished reading it. 'Buddhaland Brooklyn' is a complete departure from his previous novel, something I love because when an author takes a stab at something totally different, the result can be...interesting.
And his new one is, indeed, very interesting. Told from the perspective of a Japanese Buddhist monk, Seida Oda, we learn about his life in Japan; helping his family maintain their small inn, and fishing with his beloved older brother in clear mountain streams. But Oda's peaceful life takes a sudden turn when he turns eleven years old; he is sent to study with the monks at the nearby Buddhist temple. As time goes on, he finds his roots among the peace and solitude, despite a devastating loss which leaves him guilt-ridden. When he is forty years old, his superiors send him to a 'new world', the world of Brooklyn, New York, where he is to oversee the construction of a new temple. When his arrogance and culture-shock threaten to isolate him from the strange American Buddhists who thirst for guidance, he discovers his own flaws and shortcomings and ultimately embraces their eccentricities. But, most of all, he finally finds the sense of belonging that he has always sought.
Mr. Morais' brilliant depiction of his wonderful cast of characters is very true to life. And the scenes set in the Japanese countryside made me want to travel there in order to experience such sweet serenity. But, for me, one particular scene stood out: When Oda is invited into his Italian Catholic landlord's home, the man's mother makes their guest sit at the head of the table, which is a sign of great respect. Why I cried, I don't know, but I can guess: We are ALL invited to the table, no matter what we believe, no matter how we live our lives. It was a simple scene, yet extremely powerful.
You will learn something new (although Mr. Morais explains that his novel is not a doctrinal explanation of Buddhism). You will laugh (Americans in all their crude, crazy glory, can provide great insight and sensitivity).
But, most of all, you will love this wonderful story. Enlightenment can be found in the most amazing places.
'Buddhaland Brooklyn' will be published by Scribner in July 2012