Sunday 12 May 2013

Buddhaland Brooklyn by Richard C Morais

I was really excited to discover that Richard C Morais had written a new novel, I read his first book The Hundred Foot Journey a couple of years ago and totally fell in love with his writing style and characters - my review is here, on my blog.

His latest novel; Buddhaland Brooklyn was published at the end of April by Alma Books, and again I've been very very impressed by his wonderfully creative and captivating writing.

The story begins in the remote mountain regions of Japan and monk Seido Oda is reflecting on his childhood and how be came to enter the temple as a small child.   The reader is taken to a traditional family in a small village and introduced, one by one, to Oda's family.  His hardworking parents, the brothers he adores and his small sister.  Each character is brought to life by Morais, he draws each one perfectly - capturing each individual and giving them a real presence.

Oda himself is something of an introvert, yet he can also be set in his ways, often judgemental and very direct.  He sticks to what he believes in and expects others to do the same.   Oda is almost forty years old and expects to live out his days in the beautiful temple that he considers home, teaching the young acolytes how to produce beautiful art work and observing his faith.   It is massive shock to him when he is told that he is to travel to Brooklyn, New York to oversee the building of a temple in the area of Little Calabria.  Oda tries everything he can to get out of leaving, but eventually finds himself living amongst the American Believers and trying to understand the chaos of New York.

Coming from a peaceful, tranquil, beautiful area of Japan and finding himself in an apartment in noisy, loud, often dirty New York is a major shock to Oda.  Another shock is the behaviour of the American Believers and how they interpret the Buddhist teachings.

"Directly below the window was a weedy garden, and a line hung with children's clothes and huge billowing underpants that must have belonged to a very large woman.  A crow cawed at me from the telephone wires that ran from the house to a vine-crawled pole out back.  As I was studying this urban view, a butterfly briefly alighted on a monstrous-sized brassiere hanging from the clothesline, before fluttering off again. This was a good omen, it improved my mood."

Richard C Morais has created a wonderful character in Oda.  The despair and disbelief that he feels every day when in New York is almost palpable when reading.   The supporting cast of characters are larger than life, often a bit mad, sometimes very sad and excellently produced.

What I loved most about this book was the description of both Japan and New York.  The contrast is startling,  yet both places come to life.

Woven through this novel is a story of change, of learning about oneself, and of appreciating other people.  It tells the story of a man who is a good man, but a flawed man and how the challenges he meets in the strange land that is Brooklyn then go on to shape his future.

This is a sensitive story, with flashes of quick and clever humour and writing that is exceptional in places.  The descriptive prose is stunning, the characters are fabulous.

Morais's debut novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey, is the international best-seller that has sold in 21 territories around the world and is in active film development. His first book, an unauthorized biography of Pierre Cardin, was published by Bantam Press in 1991 to critical acclaim. He currently lives in New York, where he is also the editor ofBarron's Penta, a quarterly magazine and website offering insights and advice to affluent families. An American born in Lisbon and raised in Zurich, Morais lived in London for 17 years, where he served as Forbes magazine's European Bureau Chief.

Follow author Richard C. Morais on twitter @richardcmorais and on his website

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