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Novel set in Brooklyn and Japan (a tranquil light)

13th June 2013

Buddhaland Brooklyn by Richard C Morais, novel set in Brooklyn and Japan.

“I had always thought, from my outpost on Mount Nagata, that great beauty could be the product of only of nature. But these American skyscrapers – columns of shiny black mica, windows the colour of tremolite – were redolent with something else. They spoke to me of man-made dreams made concrete and grounded in rock, of lives fully lived. They were the solid manifestations of soaring spirit and a kind of service to a greater cause. Even the broken Manhattan skyline, where the towers had once stood, spoke to me of immense human suffering and even greater endurance. There was something unique about New York’s mountain ridge of buildings..” Seido-san’s observations of New York, quoted from Buddahland Brooklyn.

1846882419.01.ZTZZZZZZBuddahland Brooklyn by Richard C Morais is a charming novel that starts gently in the mountains of Japan, on Mount Nagata, where the waters of the Kappa-gawa river churn past a small community. Perched on the hillside is the Head Temple, a place of worship for pilgrims, and a place of training for new Buddhist monks.

This is the story of Seido-san who is initiated into the ways of a Buddhist monk and gradually comes to feel that this is his home, despite being uprooted from his own biological family.

Wonderfully rich descriptions of the idyllic landscapes of Japan draw the reader to a world, rich in verdant vegetation and traditional wooden architecture. Seido’s family runs a ryokan – a traditional guesthouse – called “Home of the Lotus”, a business which is hugely demanding of each family member. It certainly transported us back to our visits to ryokans in Amanohashidate, Hakone and Takayama, right back to the culture of which slippers to wear in which part of the house, the incredible flavours of the hugely traditional fish courses with pickled vegetables, the fusuma (sliding panels) that define a room – and seem so fragile to western eyes – and the immersion practices around the cleansing in the wonderful hot spring baths.

We see Japan through they eyes of author Richard C Morais in the first third of the novel, but we soon leave that country behind, as Seido is enlisted to oversee the building of a temple in Brooklyn, America – “home of the second chances”. He is an outsider trying to fathom the ways and customs of the Americans who have turned to Buddhism, in bustling Brooklyn, in fact, in Little Calabria, where lots of cultures find their rhythm side-by-side. Wonderful observations are interwoven with little insights into Buddhist practice; the effect of the seasons on the human psyche are charted and the trials of life in a foreign land are shunned and embraced…. A joy to read. And a lovely cover which perfectly captures the content!

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