I was kindly contacted by Alma Books not too long ago to do a review on one of their books. Of course I jumped to the opportunity, and within a few days they had sent me one copy of Buddland Brooklyn, for myself, and two more for some lucky readers! So read on to find out how to enter the competition and win a copy 😉
Buddhaland Brooklyn, witten by Richard C. Morrais, tells the fictional story of Buddhist priest Seido Oda. As a young boy he lives in the family run inn with his parents, two brothers and baby sister. Deep in the mountains of Japan, he spends his youthful days fishing with his older brother, until suddenly at age 11 he is told by his father he is to become an acolyte at the nearby temple. Oda is not pleased by this news, but must go nonetheless. While at the temple, a tragedy ensues, which results in Oda becoming a bit of an outcast amongst the other acolytes. He grows up to be an introverted priest content in his company. At age 40, for the second time in his life and greatest displeasure, he is made to do something he does not want to. He is told he must go to New York to set up a temple and give guidance to a group of American Believers in Brooklyn…For Seido Oda who has never left Japan, and for whom even Tokyo is too much to take, this promises to be quite a challenge.
What I most enjoyed about this book were the cultural differences so carefully illustrated by the author, Richard C. Morais: “I panicked, not sure if I should bow a Japanese greeting or shake hands Western-style. The Woman did neither. She threw her arms around me and hugged me tightly to her bosom. I stood stiff as a winter cherry tree holding out frozen limbs, as the woman grappled me like a sumo wrestler…” From the moment Seido Oda lands in New York, he instantly feels a sense of culture shock. This culture shock not only takes form in the people he meets, but also the landscape, the customs, music and much more: ” I tried to take off my shoes once inside the foyer, but Mr. Giusseppe would not let me, insisting the marble floor was too cold. This quite revolted me – so unsanitary – but I bit my tongue and did as instructed.” Even the food comes as a big shock to Oda: “The abundance – it was so excessive – so American”. So how will this simple monk from the mountains of Japan ever be able to instruct these Buddhist Americans who are so rushed and sloppy in their prayers to the point where it makes him sick to his stomach? Oda tries his best to stay faithful to the Buddha and ends up discovering himself while finally coming to terms with his past. While at times, as a reader I felt slightly annoyed at Oda’s judgemental side, you soon come to empathise with him, because of the book’s more serious themes that tie in with Buddhism, such as suffering and pain. Although, I would’ve preferred more character development, and found the conclusion a bit hasty, Buddhaland Brooklyn was still a good read. The author’s comical descriptions of cultural misunderstandings and laid back writing style, are in my belief, what made the book. It gave me something to relate to, because at one point or another, I think we have all been in a situation that was so alien to our own culture, it just seemed incomprehensible at the time.
I remember two instances on my first trip to Japan where I committed social blunders, which left me feeling embarrassed and slightly rude. The first one was in a clothes shop, where I had wanted to try on something and walked into the changing room with my shoes on. After noticing, my friend quickly asked me to take my shoes off and leave it in front of the changing room…oops (^^;; My second act of involuntary rudeness came when I had to pay at the till. Not knowing that Japanese try to have minimum contact with money and avoid payments hand to hand, I attempted to hand over my money to the cashier directly, who promptly picked up a small tray and gestured me to place the money there. He then took the money from the tray, and handed me back my change in the tray, from which I could then take my money. This all seemed rather long winded and confusing to me. And again, made me feel embarrassed, but in turn also embarrassed the cashier, who felt embarrassed for embarrassing me (@_@)!
I’m sure I’m not the only who’s committed such a breach of etiquettes, and would love to hear your stories as well. So to be in a chance to win Buddhaland Brooklyn, leave a comment below describing when you felt a culture shock, or made a faux pas that did not follow etiquette (unbeknownst to you). The competition will start from today and will end on May 18th at midnight, where I will choose two lucky winners 😀 So good luck to all and I hope you look forward to reading the book.