When worlds collide.
Publisher: Alma Books
First Published: 2012
Date Reviewed: 7th June 2013
Japanese Reverend Oda was sent to the monastery as a child by his parents. The action saves his life and he comes to enjoy living in the temple. But the temple is moving on, modernising, and where there are now western Buddhists there is the requirement for a competent priest to move to America. The temple believes Oda is that person, but Oda feels very differently. And working with and teaching westerners who have not grasped the teachings may prove difficult.
Buddhaland Brookyn is a peaceful book, in its words, about cultural clashes and how they influence the working together of a group of people who must be a team. It demonstrates how, with more thought, people can overcome their differences and work together. Morais offers a poignant character in the person of Oda.
Yet it must be pointed out immediately that Morais’s Buddhism here is not at all the sort you are likely expecting, and this is true no matter how much or how little you know of the religion. Reverend Oda smokes and has sex, eats meat and drinks alcohol, and his fellow priests go shopping on the high street for golfing clothes. It is indeed best that the potential reader knows this beforehand so that they can decide whether or not it would work for them. This is in part because it means that so many of the cultural differences that would ‘usually’ occur in such a situation, are not here. (It should be noted that Morais says, in the acknowledgements, “My novel should in no way be considered a serious religious work…”.)
Yet the absence of the expected Buddhist tenets does allow for Morais to concentrate on the less general areas of conflict that might have occurred. Instead of dealing with, for example, the decadence of his American congregation, Oda must teach them that their faith is a little misplaced (for example believing that prayer helped a company survive). This is where the heart of the book lies, in the transitions that need to be made by the congregation, as well as the understanding Oda must develop of his adopted land.
Oda is at the heart of the book – his change as a person is the most important. This may seem odd considering that it should be the western believers changing in order to be true Buddhists, but Morais made the right choice. As mentioned, Morais’s Oda is a wonderful character, and it’s evident that the writer has spent a lot of time getting him ‘right’. And the flow of the story, the way it has the capacity to draw you in for countless minutes before you realise just how many pages you’ve read, is a very good thing. It ought to be said, however, that this does mean the secondary characters are not as developed and a lot of their inclusion is down to the easily-identifiable stereotypes they provide (Morais is not being prejudice, he uses stereotypes to make the conflicts simple to understand).
The book ends quietly, there is no great statement or revelation. It should be noted that depending on the reader’s feelings about Buddhism, or, more so, religion in general, they might find the compromises made – in light of what happens in reality – disappointing. Yet the book’s story and voice, and the feeling that it could have been a memoir, keep it relevant and engrossing.
This Brooklyn presents a very different Buddhism, but for what it is the book is a success.
I received this book for review from Alma Books.
Edited on 11th June to reflect the information later provided of Morais’s long-time interest in Buddhism.
June 11, 2013, 1:46 pm
Sounds interesting! New title to me!
June 11, 2013, 4:00 pm
This does sound like an odd but interesting book. I like that the change takes place in Oda rather than in his ‘congregation’ – more unexpected that way. I’m interested in religion and culture clashes, so might give this a try.