There is a lot of high quality, first hand information here obscured by a cloud of pretension and overly indirect language. She is not is a very frienThere is a lot of high quality, first hand information here obscured by a cloud of pretension and overly indirect language. She is not is a very friendly writer. I was also underwhelmed by her overly cultural interpretation of Vietnamese actions during the war. Often things that could easily be explained by mere rational self-interest were chalked up to the utterly foreign and un-Western way of thinking of the Vietnamese. On the other hand I appreciated her uncompromising condemnation of US policy later in the book. Other writers, even ones critical of the US, tend to portray the whole conflict as merely an unfortunate mistake rather than one of the major crimes of the 21st Century. (3 million Southeast Asians died, Agent Orange is still causing birth defects etc.)...more
This book purports to tell the story van de Wettering's experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery. But the more I read this book, the more I realized hoThis book purports to tell the story van de Wettering's experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery. But the more I read this book, the more I realized how much poetic license he takes to fill space. The dialogue felt forced, even manufactured. And many stories seem to be made up completely. At one point he tells a story of his father asking him and two of his friends what professions they wanted to pursue, and it plays out like one of Aesop's fables. The first friend says he wants to be a businessman. And his father approves. The second friend wants to be a writer. His father has mixed feelings. And finally the author says he wants to be a hermit. And his father disapproves, telling him he wouldn't be capable of that. The all-seeing, wise father turns out to be correct as van de Wettering leaves the monastery.
A good portion of the book is dedicated to talking about his relationship with a rich man named Leo Marks. This wealthy socialite businessman invites him to parties and drives him around in limousines. I honestly suspected this person never existed. His function seemed to be wish fulfillment and narrative filler.
That isn't to say there isn't wisdom in this book. The author does have some observations that I thought were insightful. And when the Zen monks are not having their beliefs distorted by van de Wettering's casual approach to the truth, they say a lot worth remembering. Van de Wettering is not a terrible writer either, even if what he's writing doesn't always ring true. I can see how he wrote some mysteries worth reading.
All in all, if you are looking to learn about the life of Zen monks, I would look elsewhere....more
Summing it up: Stilted, unnatural dialogue. Piss poor character development. Endless, mostly pointless musical and literary name dropping. Mary SueismSumming it up: Stilted, unnatural dialogue. Piss poor character development. Endless, mostly pointless musical and literary name dropping. Mary Sueism. Sentimentality. Sex without cause or purpose. Occasional well-crafted -- moving, even -- paragraph. EDIT: I hear the translation I got (Jay Rubin) is vastly inferior to the Birnbaum translation, so I'm sure that affected my appreciation of the book....more