by Richard C. Morais
Published by Scribner (US) and Alma Books (UK in April 2013)
Reviewed by Jessica Patient
Buddhaland Brooklyn is a beautifully written novel about searching for the truth across clashing cultures. Morais’ second novel charts the life of a Buddhist priest, Seido Oda. He goes from an idyllic lifestyle in a mountainside monastery in Japan where he devotes himself to painting, poetry and praying and is forced into moving to bustling America to oversee the building of a temple in the heart of New York.
“Castor Street was crafted out of a disorienting mix-and-match of cultures, and I thought, Brooklyn is not solid. It is unstable. …But I did not really understand this at the time, this link “unstable” Brooklyn and myself. Such wisdom only came later.”
Morais successfully creates Oda as a complex and interesting character to show us an entertaining tale of human growth – spiritually and physically. As well has having to deal with the journey of moving from peacefully Japan to the city ‘that never sleeps’ he has to go on a journey of self-discovery to deal with his inner turmoil. Throughout the novel, the reader watches as Oda must learn to let go of his painful past – all of his family dying in a house fire and realise that there is a world outside the worlds of his isolated monastery.
He must learn that even though he is a priest it doesn’t make him better or more enlightened than his congregation. Oda learns to understand that his congregation are sincere in their search for enlightenment even when their everyday lives become entangled with their attempts. At times there are humorous cultural misunderstandings but Oda finally learns to adapt and soon he discovers his own Buddha nature through his teaching to the congregation.
‘This simple monk from the mountains could not, in the engine-revving and hostile traffic of New York, go forward or back or knew what to do.”
Buddhaland Brooklyn is full of intricate details and descriptive scenes, which help the reader to feel they are within the story. Throughout the book, there are butterflies landing or flying across Oda’s path. The butterfly is a great symbol of Oda. He has come from the insulated almost cocoon-environment created in the monastery. The bursting out of the cocoon is his struggle with his new environment. When the butterfly learns to stretch his wings and flies then this is Oda finally finding a place in the world and feeling confident to tackle his life. Morais builds up the contrast between rural Japan and Brooklyn very successfully. The mountainside monastery is peaceful and calm while Brooklyn is full of sound and colour.
If you like to read books that are thought provoking, fascinating and has complex characters then Buddhaland Brooklyn is the book for you.