Bud­dhism for Western Chil­dren

Kirstin Al­lio Univer­sity of Iowa Press (OC­TO­BER) Soft­cover $17 (284pp), 978-1-60938-596-5

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - LAURA LEAVITT

Bud­dhism for Western Chil­dren is a dream­like lit­er­ary novel that jour­neys into the psy­che of cult liv­ing from the per­spec­tive of a child.

Daniel’s par­ents, Ray and Cleary, bring him to Avad­hoot Mas­ter King Ivanovich’s farm in Maine when he’s ten. They’re seek­ing greater mean­ing in their lives through de­vo­tion to Ivanovich—also called the Guru—who is said to be a god in hu­man form.

Daniel is sin­gled out and re­named Jubal. He even­tu­ally leaves the cult and spends the rest of his life learn­ing to cope with what he’s seen and lived through, spend­ing time in ther­apy to deal with the cult’s child abuse and strange prac­tices.

A cri­tique of blind re­li­gios­ity, pow­er­ful iso­lated lead­ers, and ide­al­ized Western ver­sions of Eastern mys­ti­cism emerges from the glanc­ing, jumpy prose. Char­ac­ters like the Guru’s lieu­tenant and nine wives are deftly de­scribed in vi­gnette-like ap­pear­ances. Jubal’s front-row seat to the in­ti­mate and se­cre­tive be­hav­iors of the Guru and his devo­tees yields an ex­cel­lent, re­veal­ing per­spec­tive. His child­like ac­cep­tance turns to skep­ti­cism and re­jec­tion, though he al­ways main­tains a tinge of de­sire to be­long some­where, even there.

While the tone is of­ten op­pres­sively dark, mo­ments of hu­mor­ous inanity from the devo­tees and from the Guru help to bal­ance the story. Sen­tences jump from thought to dis­con­nected thought, leav­ing the reader to fill in imag­i­na­tive gaps. The lin­guis­tic ob­fus­ca­tion in the story is at­mo­spheric, adding to the me­an­der­ing sense­less­ness of cult liv­ing. Set­tings are not tra­di­tion­ally de­scribed and it is some­times hard to pic­ture scenes; oc­ca­sional, sharp bits of scenery are ori­ent­ing. Like a cho­rus, the rep­e­ti­tion of the Guru’s words and of phrases like “I hate breath­ing” help to re­in­force the PTSD sen­sa­tions in Jubal’s mind.

Bud­dhism for Western Chil­dren is an es­o­teric, po­etic, and so­cially crit­i­cal work of lit­er­ary fic­tion.

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