Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Review & Competition: Buddhaland Brooklyn by Richard C Morais

An entertaining read filled with charming descriptions and ancient haiku

by Richard C Morais
Alma Books
ISBN 1846882419
Price: £12.99
Author's website

This month I was contacted by the lovely people at Alma Books and offered the chance to review Richard C Morais' new book Buddhaland Brooklyn. They were also kind enough to send me an extra copy of the book to give away to one lucky reader but more on that later.

Buddhaland Brooklyn by Richard C Morais is the story of Seido Oda, a serious and introverted Buddhist monk who is sent from his peaceful mountain temple home in Japan to the noisy and raucous streets of New York where he will help to set up a new temple in Brooklyn. The believers that he meets are a far cry from the quiet and reverential followers that Oda is used to in Japan and the task of teaching them about enlightenment while coming to terms with both his past and his new surroundings is a difficult one.

I set about the task of reading Buddhaland Brooklyn with some trepidation. The 'fish out of water' story of Buddhist monk taken from his life of ancient ritual and tradition to live in the modern streets of Brooklyn seemed a little too cliched to me. And, on the whole I was correct. The main theme of the story is indeed not a new one but it is told with some moments of sensitivity and well-observed, nuanced writing. The early chapters of the book describing Oda's childhood contain some delightful and charming descriptions of life in rural Japan and I enjoyed the classic haiku that punctuate the whole story. The book is also sprinkled with references to Japanese culture and the odd Japanese word here and there that, though they occasionally felt a little forced and heavy-handed, did add a nice 'Japanese-ness' to the story.

When the action moves to America the descriptions of Oda's new neighbours and surroundings are equally as enjoyable. I've never visited the US myself but the streets and local colour of New York seemed to be portrayed in realistic detail. The characters however come across initially as a little two-dimensional and tended to rely a little too much on stereotype. I am undecided as to whether this is an intentional story-telling device or not. Some of these American characters did develop later though into more realistic depictions with some surprising quirks and as the story moved on there were some sensitively told and genuinely touching passages. The main star of the book though of course is it's main character Seido Oda. He slowly emerges from a stiff and serious monk to become truly likeable, I really found myself rooting for him towards the end of the book.

On the whole I enjoyed Buddhaland Brooklyn. It was by no means challenging or ground-breaking but it is an enjoyable easy read. The theme of Buddhism, reference to religious script and ancient practice (real or invented) add a little weight to the story and made me want to learn more about one of Japan's key religions. Since I know very little about Buddhism I can't comment on how accurate the references are but Morais does state at the end of the book that the characters, temple and sect that he describes are wholly invented. I think that this book would make a great holiday read especially to anyone that is interested in Japan and Japanese culture. If you want to read Buddhaland Brooklyn for yourself then please enter my competition below for your chance to win your own copy.

Buddhaland Brooklyn is Morais' 3rd book having written a biography of fashion designer Pierre Cardin  and The One Hundred Foot Journey, the story of an Indian chef who conquers the world of French haute cuisine. You can find out more on his website or read a short interview on the Alma Books site.

Win a copy of Buddhaland Brooklyn!

In Buddhaland Brooklyn Reverend Oda is forced to leave his quiet mountain temple to move to New York and often dreams of the lush green forest and sparkling waters of the mountainside village that he has left behind, his favourite place in Japan.

I have a copy of Buddhaland Brooklyn to give away and for your chance to win it all you have to do is tell me about your favourite place in Japan. Do you yearn to walk along the narrow back alleys of Kyoto's Gion district again? Does Tokyo's centre of otaku culture Akihabara hold a special place in your heart? Or are you desperate to return to the ancient temples of Nikko? If you haven't visited Japan don't worry you can still enter the competition. Just tell me about the place you'd love to visit if you had the chance.

There are 2 ways to enter for a chance to win your own copy of Buddhaland Brooklyn:

You can enter on Facebook by simply going to the Itsumo Japan Facebook page, liking the page and writing on the wall or you can enter on Twitter by following Itsumo Japan and sending me a tweet either way I want to hear all about your favourite place in Japan.

Good luck everyone!!

Terms & Conditions:
1. Competition closes on Sunday 30th June 2013.
2. All entrants' names will be put into a hat and a winner will be chosen at random.
3. The winner will be announced the following week on Facebook and Twitter.
4. The winner must provide their address (UK & Europe only sorry) and the book will be posted as soon as possible.
5. You must either like Itsumo Japan on Facebook or follow Itsumo Japan on Twitter to enter.


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