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October Reader's Den: "Buddhaland Brooklyn" by Richard C. Morais - Week 5

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Welcome back to the October 2013 edition of the Reader's Den!

This is our final week (pages 198-240; chapters 13-15) of Buddhaland Brooklyn by Richard C. Morais. If you missed any of this month's discussions, then you can revisit earlier weeks:

There is only one discussion question this week; however, feel free to discuss any points that came to mind as you finished the book. At the end of the post, there is also a list of suggested titles with themes similar to those within Buddhaland Brooklyn.

Bird's eye view of Manhattan, East River and Brooklyn from Woolworth Building, by night, New York City., Digital ID 836833 , New York Public Library

[I] rewrote my Brooklyn-moon poem to make it better reflect the person I had become.
'Over Brooklyn
The sliver moon of silver
Reveals my neighbor's roof.'

The author presented Oda as a flawed man despite his strict religious beliefs. It is this sense of irony that ultimately allows Oda to make a deeper connection with his believers and to find peace within himself. He recognizes that his position as a priest does not exempt him from the human experience; rather the human experience deepens his understanding of what it means to be a priest. The temple has been completed, and Oda has been selected to serve as the head priest. His contempt toward the believers has been resolved since the recognition each of them share in the everyday struggle of what it is to be human. Michael's death helped Oda come to terms with the tragic fire that claimed his family's lives. Once more, his relationship with Ms. Jennifer undergoes a significant transformation. As the long year draws to a close, Oda finds himself at peace. He no longer feels like a stranger; he has found a place where he belongs.

There is a constant sense of uncertainty that flows throughout the last quarter of the novel; however, the overwhelming sense of uneasiness and tension does not permeate as it did in the earlier sections. Rather, it is replaced by feelings of hopeful expectation in the face of the unknown. Oda is ready to face life and more importantly to participate in life. As the novel comes to a close, we learn that Oda has served as the head priest of the temple for past 20 years; Brooklyn has become his home—his Buddhaland.

Week 5 Question:

In your opinion, is the novel's end too neat and tidy? Is it realistic? Discuss.

Feel free to comment on any other points of interest or to pose your own questions.

Here are some other titles with one or more thematic elements similar to those in Buddhaland Brooklyn:

  • Exiles by Cary Groner: Moving to violence-stricken Kathmandu with his teenage daughter during an ugly divorce, American cardiologist Peter Scanlon volunteers at a sparsely equipped humanitarian medical clinic while his daughter flourishes in a new culture marked by Tibetan Buddhism.
  • The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka: Presents the stories of six Japanese mail-order brides whose new lives in early twentieth-century San Francisco are marked by backbreaking migrant work, cultural struggles, children who reject their heritage, and the prospect of wartime internment.
  • Benediction by Kent Haruf: A terminally ill cancer patient is attended throughout his final days by his wife and daughter while the trio contemplates their relationships with an estranged son, a situation that stirs up painful memories for a new next-door neighbor who has recently lost her mother.
  • Let the Great World Spin: A Novel by Colum McCann: A rich vision of the pain, loveliness, mystery, and promise of New York City in the 1970s. A radical young Irish monk struggles with his own demons as he lives among the prostitutes in the middle of the burning Bronx. A group of mothers gathers in a Park Avenue apartment to mourn their sons who died in Vietnam, only to discover just how much divides them even in grief. A young artist finds herself at the scene of a hit-and-run that sends her own life careening sideways. A 38-year-old mother turns tricks alongside her teenage daughter, determined not only to take care of her family but to prove her own worth. Weaving togeher these and other seemingly disparate lives, McCann's allegory comes alive in the voices of the city's people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the "artistic crime of the century"—a mysterious tightrope walker dancing between the Twin Towers.
  • The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom: Working as an indentured servant alongside slaves on a tobacco plantation, Lavinia, a 7-year-old Irish orphan with no memory of her past, finds her light skin and situation placing her between two very different worlds that test her loyalties.

Come back to the Reader's Den in November for a discussion on The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye.

Happy reading!

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